In this Q&A, Cori Loomis, a health care attorney with Crowe & Dunlevy, discusses security and funding challenges to fully implement an electronic network for sharing health records.

Q: What is a health information exchange?

A: The term “health information exchange” (HIE) is a verb and a noun. When used as a verb, it means the transmission of health care-related data among facilities, health information organizations and government agencies. When used as a noun, it refers to an organization that provides services to enable the electronic sharing of health-related information. Unfortunately, the abbreviation “HIE” also has been used to refer to the federal government’s new online health insurance exchanges, or since renamed “health insurance marketplaces,” and the two concepts are completely different.

Q: Why is health information exchange important for patients?

A: The ability to exchange health information electronically is the foundation of efforts to improve health care quality and safety. For example, if a person is involved in an accident in Weatherford and unable to tell the emergency room doctors about his/her allergies or current medications, providers can access such information through a health information exchange. This avoids negative drug reactions. There are legions of examples of how HIE can improve quality of care by avoiding duplicate services, facilitating care and providing access to important information across all of a patient’s providers.

Q: What are the drawbacks?

A: There are no drawbacks related to patient care. Only the upside. However, with the high-profile breaches of IT (information technology) systems that have been in the news lately, such as Target, there are those who question how to keep health information that is exchanged electronically secure. Providers have a lot of exposure to liability for data breaches through government fines and lawsuits, so they are highly motivated to implement security protocols and technology. But there is still a need for some regulatory oversight to standardize those security procedures. This is why it’s so important Oklahoma stay involved in this issue in some manner.

Q: What is the status of health information exchange in Oklahoma?

A: Oklahoma has made strides in implementing HIE, but more effort is needed to really ensure that Oklahoma citizens benefit from it and that it is implemented properly. There are currently four privately owned health information exchanges operating in Oklahoma. The state passed legislation in 2010 establishing the Oklahoma Health Information Exchange Trust to facilitate the electronic exchange of information in Oklahoma. OHIET has successfully issued 445 vouchers to eligible rural providers and 74 hospitals across the state to help them acquire electronic health record systems and connect those systems with a health information exchange. Rural providers didn’t have the resources to complete connections with an HIE, and OHIET was able to assist with this effort through federal grant funds. The grant funds are now exhausted and without further support from state government, the movement toward full exchange implementation will be stalled.

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