University of Nebraska Medical Center

Health Information Exchange Important to Public Health?


Public Health in the National News – The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) recently announced that two Nebraska health information exchange (HIE) initiatives are recognized as national leaders for their efforts to enhance the safety and quality of health care by embracing the use of health information technology. Why is the federal government interested in HIE and what’s happening in Nebraska?

Federal Government Interest in HIE
The ONC was created by Executive Order in 2009 and legislatively mandated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. ONC is charged with coordinating the adoption of advanced health information technology and promoting HIE. A few of the benefits that are expected are more informed medical decisions at the time and place of care; improved coordination of care among hospitals, providers, and labs; and early identification and rapid response to public health emergencies. On a long-term basis, HIE is expected to improve the delivery of quality health care and reduce costs.

What’s Happening in Nebraska?
The Nebraska Health Information Initiative (NeHII) is the state designated HIE and statewide integrator of electronic health information. Information is exchanged by participating providers to make available more complete information at the point of patient care. Individual patients may opt out of participation if they do not want their information shared. The Electronic Behavioral Health Information Network (eBHIN) currently connects behavioral health providers in southeast Nebraska and the Panhandle region, with plans to expand to additional regions as funding permits. Patient information is only available in eBHIN with the written consent of the patient. As of December 2012, more than 2.2 million patients, 1,100 physician providers, and 1,400 health care providers participate in NeHII.

Why is HIE Important to You?
As a patient, HIE allows your health information to be transferred to your providers securely and confidentially when you seek care in many different systems and locations. Typical information exchanged includes demographic information, laboratory results, medications prescribed, and transcribed reports such as results of x-rays. HIE reduces the need for you to transport your own records when seeking consultations outside your primary health care system and may also lessen repeat procedures requested when results are not available to your consulting provider. When seconds count in emergencies and you are taken to the closest emergency department, reliable information is instantly available to providers, eliminating the need to have documents faxed. As a provider, you can confidentially access and share information no matter where your patients are seeking care. As a public health professional, HIE can provide a gateway to share vaccination information and reportable disease laboratory results. The information has secondary use for study of health outcomes and comparative effectiveness of treatments after appropriate policies are in place to de-identify and safeguard individual patient data.

This article was written by Marsha Morien, MSBA, FHFMA, FACHE, instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration, and chief administrative officer in UNMC Business and Finance. She is co-chair of the eHealth Council of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission.

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