It’s a big job: trying to connect more than 11,000 physicians, 140 hospitals and millions of patients to a central database. That’s the ambitious goal of the North Texas Accountable Health Partnership. Of course, linking so many electronic medical records is not only tough, but controversial, especially when it comes to privacy.
Joe Lastinger could soon be responsible for seven million electronic medical records. Lastinger is CEO of the North Texas Accountable Healthcare Partnership and in charge of creating a health information exchange that will link physicians and hospitals across thirteen counties.
“Once we get most of the hospitals and most of the physicians connected a number of good things happen for patients,” he says.
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First, medical care will be safer, Lastinger says, because patients won’t be expected to remember details like which medications they’re on. Second, care will be more efficient because a doctor located in, say Fort Worth, can find your medical records from when you lived in another Texas city. Third, there will be less of a hassle, Lastinger says, because you won’t have to repeat blood tests or an expensive MRI just because one doctor forgot to send results to another.
So far, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas and Methodist Health System are connected to the exchange. Later this year, Texas Health Resources will be tied in as well. The push to connect doctors and hospitals is part of thenational healthcare overhaul intended to better coordinate patient care. But it has its critics.
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There are hundreds of health information exchanges across the country andabout a dozen in Texas. The exchanges have broad-based support from hospitals and physicians, but privacy advocates worry about the safety of personal information.
Dr. Deborah Peel is a former psychiatrist and founder of Patient Privacy Rights in Austin.
“The health information exchanges are actually a nightmare in this state and around the country,” Peel says, “because “They are going to send all of our most sensitive personal health information to unknown third parties.”
That would be in clear violation of federal privacy laws, known as HIPAA, and something Lastinger says won’t happen. The only people who can access information in the North Texas exchange are the doctors, nurses, and emergency room physicians who need that data in order to treat you. Also, you can opt out of the exchange all together.
Improving The System
Both Peel and Lastinger agree Texas has some of the most stringent patient privacy laws in the country. Any business or person handling medical records has to be specially trained, there are periodic audits and heavy penalties for violations of the privacy law. Still, Peel says patients should be the ones storing and sending information to doctors.
“Today, all information is shared with every physician as if that’s what you wanted,” she says. “And I guarantee you no one wants their allergist to see their gynecologic reports, no one wants their foot doctor to see their marital therapy or sex therapy notes. All doctors don’t need to see all information about you.”
Joe Lastinger, CEO of the North Texas Accountable Healthcare Partnership, says five years from now, patients in North Texas will have their medical records flow seamlessly between their healthcare providers.Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA NewsEdit | Remove
Lastinger agrees with Peel. The problem, he says, is the way information is currently collected – every single piece of data would have to be tagged separately according to who you want to see it. Until that capability exists, Lastinger says they’ll have to work with the information that’s already out there.
“We’re not doing anything new we’re not enabling information to go anywhere it shouldn’t go, we’re not enabling it to go to new places, were’ simply taking information that slowly or doesn’t always get where it’s supposed to go and making sure it happens.”
Across the country, people are choosing to opt in to health exchanges such as the one in North Texas – which isn’t to say they aren’t still concerned about privacy.