Research is backing up the claim that HIEs improve care, with one exception

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Advocates of health information exchanges tout the potential for hospitals that participate in patient data sharing to improve care. A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association seems to bear this claim out, so long as the information is shared in a timely manner.

Researchers at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor examined outside data exchange requests fulfilled using the health system's HIE, Epic's Care Everywhere, or that were faxed and scanned to the EHR. They identified a strong relationship between HIEs and the request-to-access-time of information — the speed with which patient data was returned to the hospital that requested it and the speed with which it was viewed.

"[F]or every hour saved in accessing outside information, patients' ED length of stay was 52.9 minutes shorter," the authors wrote. This is more than 10 percent below the mean ED weight time of 503 minutes for patients included in the study. Additionally, 82 percent of the information returned via HIE through an EHR were viewed by clinicians, whereas only 55 percent of information exchanged using a fax or scan was viewed.

For the 437 patients in the study whose care involved HIE-shared data, the authors estimate the medical center saved 385 hours of patient time in the ED. The medical center also avoided performing CT scans for 11 patients, MRI for 7 patients, admission for 11 patients and radiographs for 11 patients, according to the study. They estimate $1,187 in cost savings per admission.

"Our study provides strong suggestive evidence that HIE can improve a diverse set of meaningful ED outcomes through faster access to information from outside organizations," the authors concluded. "Provider organizations are therefore likely to benefit from investing in forms of HIE and associated workflows that ensure that ED clinicians can view information from outside organizations in a timely manner." 

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