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In America’s healthcare system today, getting access to your own medical information can be next to impossible. When you switch healthcare providers, transferring this information from one provider to another can be even harder. Instead of protecting us, this inability to share information can be detrimental to our health. In a recent paper published in BMC Health Services Research, Engineering and Public Policy researcher Anabel F. Castillo, along with professors Marvin Sirbu and Alexander Davis, have looked into one major way that keeping our information locked up is holding us back.

Traditionally, the healthcare industry has gone to great lengths to ensure that patients’ medical records remain private and sealed. But as more hospitals adopt the use of Electronic Health Records (EHR), more doctors are looking into ways that these records can be used to improve patient care.

Patient-centered treatment requires collaboration, coordination, and accountability.

Anabel F. Castillo, Researcher, Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

Until now, when patients switch healthcare providers, getting their health records transferred has been a long and involved process, incurring both time and monetary costs. But without these records, patients’ new providers are left without an accurate record of their medical history. With so many healthcare providers, and questions of in-network versus out-of-network treatment, there are many opportunities for error. While the introduction of EHRs has the potential to make this sharing easier, the current system has problems.

“Without interoperable systems, the full potential benefits of adopting Electronic Health Records cannot be achieved,” says Castillo. “Patient-centered treatment requires collaboration, coordination, and accountability. This can only be accomplished when medical information is available for exchange.”

The team’s study looks at the factors that lead hospitals to adopt these EHRs, and how their choice of EHR vendor can affect the sharing of patient health information. It turns out that the answer to getting hospitals to share their information is as simple as choosing the right vendor.

Read the paper

Vendor of choice and the effectiveness of policies that promote health information exchange,” was published in BMC Health Services Research.

“Our findings show that the likelihood of a hospital exchanging clinical summaries with hospitals outside its health system increases as the percentage of hospitals with the same EHR vendor in the region increases,” the team writes in the paper. In other words, hospitals are much more likely to share information if they are all using the same vendor, due to the ease with which systems can communicate with themselves, versus the difficulty of having one system communicate with another.

But hospitals aren’t simply choosing their vendors on a whim. There are plenty of regulations in place that govern how and why hospitals determine their preferred vendor. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and the associated State Health Information Exchange Cooperative Program, provide monetary incentives to both providers and hospitals to support the exchange of information through EHRs. Because these regulations play such a big role in the adoption of these systems, new regulations could have a huge impact on making these exchanges more efficient.

“Identifying the barriers for information exchange,” the team says, “is a necessary step to achieve the goals of the HITECH Act in creating a more efficient and effective healthcare system.”