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Electronic health records improving efficiency

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Posted: Monday, April 1, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — Technology has transformed health care in many ways. Today, your doctor can enter your prescription in the computer and before you leave the office, the pharmacy has texted you that your medication is ready for pickup.

Electronic health records and Alaska’s health information exchange are improving quality and safety of medical care in Fairbanks, and giving our doctors, nurses and families secure access to our medical information when and where we need it.

Alaska’s hospitals and health centers are joining the Alaska eHealth Network, a nonprofit organization that manages the state of Alaska’s health information exchange. Beginning with a pilot program in Fairbanks, the health information exchange provides secure access to medical records wherever patients get medical care. Participating Fairbanks-based medical care providers include Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Tanana Valley Clinic and Tanana Chiefs Conference.

With this pilot program in Fairbanks, all your participating medical providers can have secure access to your medical history, medications and allergy information. The health information exchange and electronic health records provide information to emergency room professionals, decrease duplicate testing, and make information more readily available for appropriate personnel (such as when patients’ history and records are unknown to caregivers).

Another benefit of this program is accessibility during emergencies. Paper records can be destroyed in disasters. After Hurricane Katrina, medical records were lost or drying on lawns. With Superstorm Sandy, electronic health records got patient information to doctors.

You may opt out of the health information exchange. Talk to your health care provider to do so. If you are worried about privacy, be assured that the health information exchange utilizes the highest technology standards available today to ensure it is secure, trustworthy and private. Most people feel the benefits outweigh the risks.

One method the Alaska eHealth Network health information exchange uses as a secure way to share medical information is direct secure messaging (DSM). DSM is an encrypted, web-based email client where health care providers can securely exchange clinical data, such as referrals, patient summaries, and lab results. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology recently recognized Alaska as a leader in directed exchange and direct secure messaging.

Your doctor can use DSM to download clinic notes from your electronic health record as a PDF and, with just a few clicks, can send protected, encrypted patient information to the clinic that needs it. Sharing clinical information between those who have it and those who need it allows providers to give patients the best care possible.

Electronic prescriptions are another example of securely exchanging health information. E-prescriptions allow doctors to see a patient’s pharmaceutical history, allowing them to better understand whether a new drug will react badly with an allergy or an existing prescription. Currently, 94 percent of Alaska’s pharmacies are capable of accepting e-prescriptions.

Electronic health records, the health information exchange and the Alaska eHealth Network are for everyone in Alaska. The pilot program in Fairbanks will expand to the entire state and include hospitals, nursing homes, private physician offices, community health centers, laboratories, imaging centers and pharmacies. Alaska is part of the Western States Consortium, which allows us to securely exchange health information with providers in other states.

Whether you have a new doctor who needs the results of a past checkup, your father forgets which medicine he’s supposed to take, or your daughter needs to go to the emergency room, the health information exchange and electronic health records are safe, secure and life-saving.

Does your health care provider use electronic health records? Are they a part of the Alaska eHealth Network? Ask them.

For more information about electronic health records, health information exchange and the Alaska eHealth Network, talk to your medical provider, visit www.ak-ehealth.org or call 1-866-966-9030. Watch our PSA on electronic health records.

Paul Cartland is the State Health Information Technology Coordinator with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

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