Many hospitals around the state are wrapping up the long and tedious transition to electronic medical records. Some of Montana’s biggest health centers are now taking that transition a step further–signing onto a statewide database to exchange the health information of patients.
It’s a government run exchange system. Organizers say it could improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare. And they are trying to answer concerns about patient privacy.
Helena family physician Dr. Jonathan Griffin describes Healthshare Montana in its most basic form as providing “a link between different electronic healthcare systems.”
Say you live in Helena, and your regular doctor is there. You’re travelling in Missoula though, and you end up in the emergency room.
“You want those doctors to in the emergency room to have access to your healthcare information,” he said.
Because without it, doctors could be wasting critical time.
“It might require phone calls to learn more about you or faxes to be sent,” he said.
Healthshare Montana will help doctors avoid that. It gives one central database and all these other record systems feed into it. The state has been developing Healthshare since 2006 and it’s just really getting ready to launch. Dr. William Reiter works in Anaconda. He’s one of several Interim Executive Directors of Healthshare Montana and he’s won national awards for his work with electronic health records. He says integrating record systems across the state brings the right care to people at the right time.
“The clinical decision support on the individual patient level working on all this gathered data can help docs make sure things happen that are supposed to happen,” he said.
And cheaper too, because the system helps stop duplicated tests and procedures. But Reiter says some of his colleagues feel reluctance toward Healthshare. Some say it’s been too expensive.
“About, pushing 10 million dollars from different funding sources to build this infrastructure,” he said.
And then there are the privacy concerns.
“So if records are now electronic and now they’re outside of the doctor’s own computer in his own office–are there sufficient privacy safeguards,” he said.
“There are lots of ways people may be nervous about this,” Griffin said. He wants to assure patients their information is very well protected. He says the records at Healthshare Montana will be more secure than those at any individual hospital.
“The level of security is the highest level of security that’s available. the servers, the places where the data is stored is guarded better than most banks,” he said.
Healthshare organizers say the state’s largest hospitals are building software to integrate with the system right now. Almost all of the hospitals in the state have expressed interest. Dr. Griffin says patients will be automatically enrolled. But they can choose to be included.
“Patients do have the option to opt out of this,” he said. Patients will need to be making that choice pretty soon. Hospitals should start rolling their records into Healthshare Montana in the next six months.