Many Lawrence-area residents may soon be part of a statewide electronic medical record exchange, after Lawrence Memorial Hospital this month signed a preliminary agreement to be part of the Kansas Health Information Network.
The exchange allows health care providers to share information about patients in an effort to provide more coordinated care with less duplication of services. LMH joins roughly 75 other hospitals across the state in being part of the network.
There's no word yet on when LMH will begin sharing data. Hospital spokeswoman Janice Early said technical details and patient notification still have to be worked out.
"We're not going to contribute all of our patients' data to that until we have tested it and are very secure with it how works," she said.
The hospitals' physicians, however, have access to patient information already in the exchange.
LMH does see the benefits in the system, Early added, as it allows them to learn the medical histories of patients they don't normally see. This could come in handy when, say, an out-of-towner shows up in the emergency room with an acute illness.
Participation in KHIN among Lawrence-area providers had been relatively low but, with LMH signing up, KHIN has the potential to cover most of the area's patient population.
"They are a critical hospital because so many patients receive care there," said KHIN executive director Laura McCrary. "The hospital is sort of the center of all the health care in the community. When the hospital joins the exchange, then generally you'll see most of the other health-related facilities in the communities join at that point."
McCrary believes there will eventually be a nationwide health information exchange, noting that the government infrastructure is already in place. As of August, about a third of the patient population in Kansas was in the network, as were about 5,000 providers.
"I think that over time we will have all providers participating," McCrary said. "It's a patient safety issue. Oftentimes patients don't remember their list of medications or the results of their labs. Without that information, errors and mistakes can be made."
But providers and exchanges are still working out the kinks in the system. That includes making sure that patient information remains private and that consumers are aware their data will be in such a system.
"That process is part of the reason these networks are slow to get off the ground," said Dan Purdom, medical director at Lawrence's Heartland Community Health Center. "How do you do informed consent and release of information? We don't want patients to feel vulnerable."
Patients in Kansas who don't want to be part of the exchange have to opt out; so far, only a few hundred have. And KHIN isn't the only health information network in Kansas. Lewis and Clark Health Information Exchange mostly serves the Kansas City area and recently came to an agreement to connect its exchange with KHIN.
The 2009 federal stimulus program provided billions of dollars toward the creation of health information exchanges across the country. The government also incentivizes providers to use electronic medical records, through increased Medicare and Medicaid payments; in the future, they will be penalized for not having them. The exchanges, for one, allow the different health record systems to communicate.
Other providers in Lawrence to sign up for KHIN, a not-for-profit funded by the Kansas Hospital Association and Kansas Medical Society, include Reed Medical Group, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Health Care Access, Lawrence Optometric Center and Flory Optometric.