Never before has a private organization established a successful program to exchange medical records with a federal agency. But today, Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched such a program in San Diego, where both institutions would be able to share files electronically.

This ground-breaking program will expand over time, officials say, and it could be a catalyst for a national health records system. In coming months, the U.S. Department of Defense is set to join the program. The partnership may also spur similar medical collaborations on the local and state level as it develops.

"Ultimately we're hopeful that we can share this information with a lot of others," said Jim Anderson, a Kaiser Permanente spokesperson. "Over time we hope to find ways to expand this to other doctors and other groups of doctors."

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the pilot program will provide health-care providers with instant electronic access to medical records for about 1,000 patients. In the beginning, these records will include personal identification information, lists of allergies and medical conditions and histories. Eventually the program will expand to include X-rays, files with doctors' examination notes and lab test results.

Although it's too early to gauge the success of the program, the partnership illustrates that public and private groups can bypass the barriers that have previously blocked the formation of an electronic medical information network. In the past, the cost of computers and software, the lack of any official sharing standard, debates about patient privacy and competition between private organizations have stifled efforts for such electronic medical-records exchanges.

But the success of this pilot program could spark a new movement of partnerships between public and private health organizations, especially as the efforts align with President Barack Obama's push for all Americans to have electronic medical records.

 

Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer