Incorporating Images Key To HIE Sustainability

Posted on by Frank J. Rosello

Health information exchanges (HIEs) today are focusing on gathering and making “basic” information accessible at the point of care. Although access to textual data such as lab results and discharge summaries is of tremendous value to industry stakeholders, that alone is not and will not be enough to make HIEs sustainable.

To reach that goal, HIEs must provide services that are difficult for healthcare institutions to implement independently, enable HIEs to leverage economies of scale, and substantially supplement the value of the records they already offer.

One area offering HIEs the opportunity to provide compelling added value and build a sustainable business model is on-demand full-diagnostic quality image sharing as an integrated component of the rest of the patient record. Today, hospitals often burn images to a CD or DVD that are delivered to critical access hospitals, surgeons, oncologists, neurologists, orthopedists, and other specialists via patients or couriers.

Due to incompatibility, readability and usability issues, images on CDs or DVDs routinely are not available to the entire care team in a timely manner. The result is treating providers repeatedly order duplicate imaging exams, adding significant cost to the healthcare system, inconveniencing patients, and worse yet, exposing patients to unnecessary radiation. A September 2012 report from the Institute of Medicine found that 25 percent of patients had a previously performed exam re-ordered. Other studies show that up to a third of CT exams are unnecessary. This data clearly underscores the need for a better solution.

HIEs can step in and fill the need for a superior solution by “image-enabling” their network. Proven services to provide this capability and deploy all of the “plumbing” required to easily connect imaging providers to a HIE within a few hours already exist. These services can enable additional valuable workflows such as “emergent/trauma imaging,” allowing authorized HIE users to access images for emergency consultation or patient transfer. Additionally, they also give HIEs the ability to view images in full-diagnostic quality and transfer them to their picture archiving and communication system (PACS).

HIEs that have incorporated image functionality have experienced increased participation by radiologists, primary care physicians, specialists, and hospitals that previously had not been interested in joining, participating or connecting to HIEs. But on-demand and real-time access to images and textual data led them to reconsider. The important benefit of reduction of unnecessary repeat exams has also been proven by these HIEs, paving the path to greater HIE acceptance, growth and financial sustainability while enabling users to deliver higher quality care at lower cost across their community.

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