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VA, Kaiser Permanente Unveil Project to Exchange Patient Data Electronically

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, January 7, 2010

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Kaiser Permanente have launched a pilot project in the San Diego area that they say will let them exchange—with a patient's permission—electronic health record data about health issues, medications, and allergies for the first time.

The project announced Wednesday is using the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), which provides a technological gateway to support interoperability standards and permits the secure exchange of health information between treating physicians, when authorized by a patient. Led by the Department of Health and Human Services, the NHIN will let providers from participating organizations send data around-the-clock in a secure fashion.

"Today it takes weeks when a patient comes in and says, 'I've had care in another institution and I'd like you to see a doctor so you can take care of me.' They have to go through a laborious and onerous process of requesting those records, signing for them, mailing them, and having them copied on paper," said John Mattison, MD, assistant medical director and chief medical information officer at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

"What we have achieved with this pilot is that [the] process of taking weeks to get paper records now occurs in seconds. The net affect is clearly an improvement in quality, increase in patient safety, and a tremendous improvement in efficiency of how we share information," he said at a briefing Wednesday.

Using the NHIN construct will ensure that the "same infrastructure and set of operability standards are available to anyone and everyone across the country who wants to participate," Mattison added. "We're committed to enabling others in joining in."

The NHIN isn't a system "so much as a set of standards and protocols for the exchange of health information—it will allow for the exchange of administrative data," said Stephen Ondra, MD, VA’s senior policy advisor for health affairs. "That's important because by linking ourselves with standards, we're not tied to any single system." The use of the NHIM eventually will permit the private sector "to develop more choices."

An estimated three out of four veterans currently receive a portion of their care in the private sector, Ondra said. "To take care of those patients, we really need to have the visibility to share with each other what each of us provides to those patients—to understand conditions and to understand what treatments they've had, what medications, what allergies."

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