June 27, 2012

Q&A with the North Carolina Health Information Exchange's CEO, Jeff Miller

What is the NC Health Information Exchange?

The North Carolina Health Information Exchange (NC HIE) is a private, nonprofit organization that provides our health care system with the technology to support real time access and exchange of health information. The NC HIE makes critical data available when and where it’s needed to improve health outcomes and control health care costs for North Carolina residents.

      What is the relationship between electronic health records and a health information exchange?

A health information exchange (HIE) links information from patients’ electronic health records and makes important information available to physicians in different institutions and organizations across North Carolina. In our current system, all of a patient’s doctors are not always operating within the same exchange system and do not have access to a patient’s complete medical history. Connecting electronic medical records through a statewide HIE means North Carolina physicians will have immediate access to a patient’s entire health history, allowing for more coordinated care.

       What are the benefits, to patients and physicians, of a statewide health information exchange?

At the most basic level, physicians will have more information available to make the best possible decisions when it comes to their patients. Patients will have the benefit of more effective and thoughtful care tailored to their individual needs, as well as fewer errors, less duplication, less paperwork, and lower healthcare costs. With a statewide HIE, the exchange of information will be more streamlined and efficient for both patients and physicians.

      What is NC HIE’s role in transforming the way health information is exchanged and accessed in North Carolina?

Right now, North Carolina’s health institutions and networks work in silos and are not all part of a single exchange system. NC HIE can serve as the fabric that ties all of these networks together so providers across the state can harnesses our state’s tremendous health care resources.

Consider the case of a hypothetical patient who goes to an emergency room with chest pains. Today, it’s very difficult for an emergency room doctor to access to a patient’s health and medication history. With a fully developed health information exchange, the ER physician could compare the patient’s current and previous tests, check for possible drug interactions and more accurately determine the cause of the patient’s symptoms. The end result is more insightful care at critical moment. 

How does NC HIE protect my health records?

Connection to the NC HIE network is secured through the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and protected by a dedicated Firewall. All access to the NC HIE is password protected and all information is always data encrypted, to ensure maximum protection. Barring an emergency situation, NC HIE users can only access the information of patients with whom they have a provider-patient relationship. Patients can also see who is accessing their health information by requesting an activity report directly from NC HIE.

      How does the NC PATH initiative integrate with the NC HIE?

      The North Carolina Program to Advance Technology for Health (NC PATH) is the result of a collaboration between BCBSNC, Allscripts and NC HIE. The program provides independent, primary care physicians and free clinics across the state with support in the adoption of health IT by subsidizing the cost of an electronic health record system and integrating it into NC HIE. This allows the provider seamless access to a more comprehensive view of a patient’s health.

      Do you think widespread adoption of EHRs and connection to NC HIE will help rein in medical costs across the system?

As physicians connect to NC HIE, we hope to see a reduction in medical errors, less duplication, less paperwork, and healthier patients which will all ultimately help lower medical costs. And reducing administrative costs is one of the secondary benefits of a statewide health information exchange. Just imagine a traditional doctor visit – patients have to fill out a significant amount of paperwork and then office staff has to process and enter all of that information. With EHRs and an HIE, patient information will be accessed immediately with the click of a button.

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