Highmark develops data-share network
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Within a few months, a specialist from the West Penn Allegheny Health System will be able to electronically share radiology test results with a primary care physician through a new health information exchange being developed by Highmark Inc. and Verizon, the two companies announced Monday.
The exchange -- a data and communications system that allows insurers, hospitals and patients to share patient data electronically -- is first being installed at WPAHS hospitals and, soon after, at Butler Health System, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, MedExpress Urgent Care, The Washington Hospital and others.
Within two years the system will be made available to physicians and hospitals across the state and in West Virginia, making it the first true statewide data exchange, the companies said.
Highmark's exchange, developed by Verizon's Enterprise Solutions unit, will contain the records of millions of patients (supposing they don't opt out of the data exchange) and, it's hoped, will produce more efficient, more effective care via better communication and fewer redundant tests.
Physicians will be able to more easily determine the date of and reason for a patient's most recent hospital stay; specialists will know if a CT scan has been done in the last few months at another institution and be able to rule out a duplicative one.
When it is implemented statewide, Highmark's system will be larger in scope -- and in the number of participating patients -- than existing "regional" health records exchanges, such as the local one being developed at Heritage Valley Health System with UPMC's participation (called "ClinicalConnect") or the one being used by the mid-state Geisinger Health System.
Highmark also said it might someday tie into those records systems, if the exchanges are up for it, creating a more universal data exchange instead of one segmented by provider and insurer.
Eventually, Highmark said, the system should be "self-sustaining," meaning clinics, physicians and participating hospitals will have to pay a fee in order to access it. The insurer wouldn't disclose those fee structures, nor would it reveal the cost of building the system during its Monday teleconference.
All medical providers -- be they large hospitals, urgent care clinics or two-person primary care practices -- keep medical records, but historically it's been difficult creating a system that allows all of those offices and databases to communicate with each other.
That's because different providers use different hardware and software platforms -- the MRI machine at the local imaging clinic can't effortlessly "talk" with the physician's records system, for example. A single large health care provider network, such as UPMC, might use hundreds of different computer programs, or "clinical applications," each speaking a different language.
That's why coming up with a single master exchange system, which can force the down-the-ladder systems to communicate with one another, has been so difficult and time-consuming decades after the advent of the personal computer and almost 20 years since the Internet made computer-to-computer communications an everyday reality.
Adoption of e-records, and the creation of health record exchanges, has taken on new urgency since the federal Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act earmarked about $30 billion to be spent on new record-keeping technologies in the field of medicine.
Verizon and Highmark say their system can adjust to the needs of the participating provider, no matter how advanced or how behind-the-times a practice may be when it comes to electronic record keeping.
"Our goal was to be able to integrate with all providers," said Augusta Kairys, Highmark's vice president of provider technologies.
First Published February 21, 2012 12:00 am