Statewide health information exchange network can help close gaps in health care – Press Enterprise

It remains to be seen if California’s current lull in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths will continue or if new variants of the virus could once again trigger widespread illness and strain our health systems. health care delivery.

But whatever the future holds, we know this: we need to be better prepared for what comes next.

The way forward must be guided by complete, timely and accurate patient health information – both to meet individual patient needs and to identify public health gaps that need to be addressed in a timely manner.

There is reason to hope that we will soon be better prepared and that our fragmented systems for collecting and accessing vital health information will be integrated into a network of health information exchange across government that will enable physicians and other healthcare professionals to better serve their patients.

The California Health and Human Services Agency, following legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last year, has begun creating a statewide health information exchange network. This will give providers real-time access to the medical records they need to inform their care, and also allow medical groups and social welfare agencies to activate outreach programs to meet community health needs.

Amid the pandemic, a statewide health information exchange network would give providers real-time information about their patients’ test results, hospitalizations and immunization status.

The experience of my organization, the Inland Empire Foundation for Medical Care, has shown how sharing health information can be critical to saving lives during national health emergencies. By using available health information and filtering 80 diagnoses such as several chronic conditions, we were able to identify patients most at risk so that we could provide them with crucial information about COVID-19 that identified and documented their needs.

This effort has demonstrated some of the significant benefits of a secure, statewide health information exchange network – it provides the ability to deliver the information physicians need to provide timely and effective patient care. individual patients, and it has the ability to use population-level data that can inform effective programs to improve the health of entire communities.

The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided stark evidence of the need for such efforts. He laid bare the health care disparities in our state and country and revealed the critical importance of being able to measure those disparities, target communities in need of health care interventions, and then evaluate the effectiveness of those efforts.

Going forward, it’s clear that the need for smart interventions will be more critical than ever – not only if a new COVID strain emerges that could trigger another deadly surge or another contagion arrives. threatening, but also to catch up on the delays in health care delivery that the pandemic has already caused.

We know there was a drop in cancer screenings and other preventative services at the height of the pandemic. Unless this gap is closed, the inevitable result will be cancers that will be detected at later stages over the next few years, limiting the ability to treat them effectively and prolong life. The ability to access a patient’s comprehensive health information in real time will allow providers, health plans and public health agencies to identify those most at risk.

It has long been recognized that sharing electronic health records will improve clinical care, avoid the need for duplicate testing, and reduce healthcare costs. There have been significant advances in this area, but our systems are still insufficient.

No health information exchange network can succeed without the full participation of providers and an infrastructure that makes comprehensive and timely information universally accessible in California.

The statewide health information exchange network being developed in our state can deliver on that promise. This is an opportunity that California must seize.

Tarek Mahdi, a family physician, sits on the board of the Inland Empire Health Information Exchange.

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