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Health Information Exchange: What You Need to Know

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Despite the healthcare industry’s widespread adoption of electronic health record software and the push for interoperability, patient care is often fragmented. Medical information known to a patient’s primary care provider, for example, may not be known to the specialist treating the individual or to the hospital or urgent care center that the patient visits and vice versa. This lack of knowledge can lead to medical errors, higher care costs and gaps in treatment.

Health information exchange (HIE) addresses this issue by allowing providers to securely share and access critical patient information at the point of care. Rather than requesting medical records by fax or mail, HIEs allow for instant electronic access to patient health data. The data from one system gets stored seamlessly in another and is available for the provider to view at any time. This data may include past medical history, results for lab and imaging tests, current medications and more.


The two types of HIEs most commonly used by providers include:

  • Directed exchanges (support coordinated care): allow providers to send and receive secure information electronically. For example, a primary care physician refers a patient with an abnormal heart murmur to a cardiologist. The physician sends the specialist the patient’s current health issues, medications and diagnostic findings.
  • Query-based exchanges (for unplanned care): allow providers to find or request information on a patient from other providers. For example, a patient arrives at the emergency room and is experiencing seizures. The physician uses the HIE to access information about the patient, including a medical history, current medications, and potential drug allergies.

What Are the Benefits?

Health information exchanges allow providers to easily share patient health records, resulting in better care coordination, lower care costs and improved treatment outcomes. Studies have already shown that the use of HIEs in emergency departments reduces the number of duplicate tests and procedures – and the same is likely to be true for providers in medical practice settings. After all, when a provider has access to a patient’s complete health history, better decisions can be made regarding the patient’s diagnosis, treatment and care plan.

HIEs provide the following benefits for improving quality and safety of patient care:

  • They ensure that all caregivers have access to the same information.
  • They prevent medical errors often caused by a lack of information.
  • They provide clinical decision support tools for more effective treatment.
  • They reduce medication errors and prevent possibly harmful drug interactions.
  • They eliminate redundant or unnecessary testing.
  • They improve health monitoring and reporting.

How to Get Started

Participating in a health information exchange is recommended for medical practices looking to improve care coordination and attest to Meaningful Use. There are many data exchange options available including HIEs supported by EHR vendors, HIEs developed by accountable care organizations, and local and regional exchange networks.

For many practices, working with a certified EHR software vendor is one of the best ways to get started with an HIE. Not all vendors offer the functionality, so you will want to make sure that you work with a vendor like 1st Providers Choice that is fully committed to interoperability. Our EHR software is flexible and fully interoperable with a wide range of software systems. Furthermore, we use advanced technologies and offer comprehensive services to help our clients meet their data sharing needs.

Are you looking to learn more about health information exchange, or ready to get started? Call 480-782-1116 today!