Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wellpoint and Blue Shield of California are partnering to create a Health Information Exchange, or HIE.

An HIE is a federally-funded network designed to “allow patients’ records to be shared digitally among the providers caring for them.”

HIE’s already exist in several parts of the country.  The Journal article cites an HIE in Indiana in which more than 100 hospitals and 25,000 physicians participate.   There is an HIE in my state, Connecticut.

According to the article, the California HIE will - for example - ensure that physicians will have immediate access to patient information in emergencies [which suggests the database is not strictly limited to a patient’s own physicians after all] or ensure that a specialist could review past test results and avoid ordering duplicates.

In general, the theory behind an HIE predicts that when physicians have more complete and readily available patient information, duplication and patient risks decline, and patient outcomes improve.  This is a rational prediction based on experience; HIE’s simply bring better technology to bear.

The theory also appears to predict that more effective care will be less costly by much more than enough to offset “user fees” that the HIE charges to its participating providers.   HIE’s will test this theory.

And in theory I suppose, the HIE databases will be secure – which is not quite to say unhackable.  No doubt this will also be tested.

According to the Journal, the two California insurers “want hospitals, doctors and other insurers around the state to contribute their patients' information as well. In turn, they will be able to draw on records for their patients that were placed in the exchange by other participants.”   The Journal further explains what “contribute” means.  It means automatically posted - i.e.,  “Patients' records automatically will be included in the new California network if their health plans or health-care providers join”

However, individuals will be able to “opt out and block their information from being shared.“ [btw, I don’t recall being offered this opt-out in Connecticut].

Also, “Patients initially won't be able to see their own records but should get that ability later, the insurers said.”

So let’s review.  These California insurers and providers are bringing up a huge new hackable database of personal health information; the database will automatically contain the information they post for their members/patients; all physicians can readily access the database; but, initially at least, the members/patients won’t be able to see their own records.

Cool.  It’s Facebook for Physicians.

UPDATE [HGS]: FoIB David Williams has a related post discussing Patient Portals:

"They’re good for checking lab results, asking non-urgent clinical questions, renewing prescriptions, managing appointment schedules, patient education and paying bills."
 
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