Jennifer Brull’s father needed urgent medical attention.
Brull, herself a physician, was helping him collect everything he needed, including his most recent laboratory and scan results. Then she learned that one set of her father’s X-rays were at a hospital four hours away.
"We had to drive to pick them up," she said, recalling the incident, which occurred earlier this spring. "It was a real pain in the butt. You know, it's during a stressful time and we were dealing with a bunch of other things. This was just one more thing that we have to deal with, something that should have been easy. There's no reason in this day and age that we shouldn't have been able to accomplish that electronically.”
Dr. Jennifer Brull, who practices family medicine in Plainville, is a national leader in adopting electronic health records.
It isn’t the technology itself that is the barrier to more medical providers exchanging electronic records, she said, but the lack of a secure network to transmit them without risking patient privacy.
"We said, 'Just email it — it's fine, we'll sign a waiver.' They said they just couldn't do it," Brull recalled of the hospital’s refusal to transmit her father’s X-ray records and spare the family the long drive.
Developers of a new statewide digital health records exchange say the needed secure network is coming to Kansas this summer. They call it a groundbreaking event that is expected to improve patient care and help cut medical costs by avoiding redundant and ineffective treatments. It’s also expected to reduce errors.
The statewide health information exchange is scheduled to go live July 1, allowing medical providers registered with the network to share and search for patient records.
Dr. Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the exchange would safeguard patient privacy.
"We can assure patients that this information will be secure and safe and only available to those providers that need it, and at the time they need it," he said.
Patient information available on the network at first will be limited to demographics, medications, allergies, lab results and medical history, including diagnoses, procedures, surgeries and immunizations. But officials at the Kansas Health Information Exchange Inc. predict the system will grow to include more kinds of information, such as a doctor's notes or dictation recordings.
Substance abuse data will not be available on the network unless explicitly authorized by a patient.
About a third of Kansas patients receive care from a provider who is or will be connected to the exchange in the near future, officials said.
Benefits of exchange
As it is more widely adopted, health information exchange, or HIE, will take the place of paper records, which are typically transferred via fax, discs, mail or by patients themselves. And quicker access to more complete patient information should translate into benefits for patients.
"Right now we wait sometimes a month or more to get records," Brull said. "That time delay certainly impacts how you provide care to that patient."
She said the current paper system relies heavily on the patient to relay information from one care provider to the next. But too often patients don't know exactly what was done or learned by another provider.
"If you know real information, you're a lot less likely to order another test," Brull said. "That's what the free exchange of information gets you — you've helped the patient and eliminated costs."
Less paperwork also will mean less administrative cost, she said.
"I hope people look back 20 years from now or 50 years from now and say, ‘This was when health care in the United States changed. There's way less cost and better health care,’" Brull said.
→ Continue reading about health information exchange at khi.org/HIE — including information about network security and privacy concerns that patients need to know.
New privacy notices
Starting June 1, patients of Kansas health care providers who are connected to the new statewide network will receive privacy notices telling them that their health records may be shared electronically, under the same legal protection that currently applies to their paper-based health records. Those who don’t want their records to be available on the network must mail in an "opt-out" form, which is available at the website KHIE.org.