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For Patients

Why do we need health information exchange (HIE)?

It's hard to remember a time when you couldn't communicate with someone else at the touch of a button. Today, we can video-conference with colleagues that are half a world away, we can pay our electric bill from the comfort of our couch, and we can watch movies by pressing just a few buttons on our TV remote.   So why is it that when we need to see a specialist or go to a hospital outside our typical health system, our physician has to fax our records, hire a courier to deliver them, or worse yet, ask us to carry our records ourselves? Many hospitals and physicians have invested in expensive electronic systems in their offices (called electronic health record systems) but these systems cannot "talk" to other systems. In some cases, even if physicians are on the same system, they still can't communicate electronically. Ironically, they often must de-digitize the information and reduce it to paper in order to share it. Think of it like having an iPhone and not being able to call someone who has an Android phone. You both have phones, but you can't communicate. It may sound like a bad dream, but unfortunately, that's the way our health care system operates today.

It can be worse.

Not only are our physicians not able to communicate efficiently with one another about our care, but sometimes the lack of readily available information puts them in the position of having to make critical decisions about how to treat us without having the full picture. Not having the full picture can cause any number of problems, such as adverse drug interactions, repeating costly tests, or worse.       

But there is hope.

HIE provides a way for physicians to communicate our health information with each other regardless of the systems they are using. HIE is like a highway designed specifically for health information — complete with on-ramps, off-ramps, a few gas stations, and, in some cases, even the dirt road needed to get the information that last mile. And, because it's designed specifically for health information, the "highway" offers protection and security for all of the information traveling on it. 

It will get better.

HIE is also the way our physician can obtain our health information from all the other physicians who have treated us and it can be done at the touch of a button! Because the HIE knows where we've received care, it can pull together all of our health information in a way that gives physicians a more complete view of our health situation.

That’s it: HIE in a nutshell.