Hospitals have been working for years to digitize patient medical records, but now New York state is expanding a system to centralize the record-keeping of multiple hospitals.
A patient’s medical history may be in the computer at their primary care doctor’s office. And their records may be digitized at the hospital they’ve been treated at, "however, many of those systems can’t easily or fluently communicate with one another," said Dr. Rainu Kaushal, who chairs the Weill Cornell Medical College’s healthcare policy program.
She just studied Rochester-area hospitals’ implementation of the State Health Information Network of New York, known as SHIN-NY and pronounced "shiny."
Kaushal uses the analogy of an ATM. She says under the SHIN-NY system, a doctor can withdraw "money" – i.e. access a patient's medical records – from any ATM, instead of just at their local branch.
Regional exchanges like Rochester’s have been in the works for a few years. Now, SHIN-NY wants those regional networks to talk to each other.
That ability to share information across health care providers will cut down on redundant tests and hospital re-admissions for patients, Kaushal said.
"If I don’t need to be in the hospital, it’s really beneficial to me as a patient to not be there," she said.
Patients have to give consent to have their information added to the statewide network.
In Rochester, Kaushal says the number of duplicate x-rays and unnecessary hospital re-admittance dropped by double-digits through use of the network.
"Having exchange of clinical information is a very effective way of avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations or re-admissions," she said.
That saves both patients and hospitals money. Once connected, SHIN-NY will be one of the largest health records networks in the world. The program’s expansion is costing $55 million.
The expansion of the records program is also seen as a job creator, as companies deliver solutions for hospitals to access records.