Physician viewpoint: Lack of EHR sharing prevents patient care

Patients suffer treatment delays and are sometimes forced to undergo medical tests they have already completed when they switch providers, infectious diseases specialist Pranay Sinha, MD, wrote in WBUR.

While physicians may feel irritated at the lack of EHR interoperability between healthcare organizations, patients experience pain and delays in their diagnosis and treatment when physicians must wait for copies of their medical records, Dr. Sinha, an infectious diseases fellow at Boston University School of Medicine, wrote.

Dr. Sinha, who works at a tertiary center, said patients are often transferred to his medical center when surrounding hospitals lack necessary services. When patients are transferred, medical records sent with them are often incomplete or tests that the patient has undergone are still pending results. These circumstances leave physicians having to track down updates from the patient's previous hospital to move forward with their treatment plan.

"Countless patients suffer the steely stabs of our needles as we repeat tests that they received just hours ago in different facilities," Dr. Sinha wrote. "Claustrophobic patients brave the disconcerting confines of our CAT scan and MRI machines because their previous images languish in the records of other hospitals."

Fragmented health records can also increase costs as patients are left to pay for medical tests they have already undergone, but lack record of, Dr. Sinha wrote. While some states have introduced health information exchanges to improve health records sharing between unaffiliated hospitals and health organizations, they are not nearly as wide-spread as they should be, according to the report.

Massachusetts implemented its HIE, MassHiway, in 2012, yet no residents or medical staff from four large Boston-based medical training programs were familiar with the technology when Dr. Sinha asked them, he wrote.

"It’s like inventing penicillin and forgetting to inform [physicians]," Dr. Sinha wrote.

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