Don’t Let the State of Georgia’s Health Information Exchange Confuse You

Spring is fully upon us, and in Georgia that means one thing – pollen. Folks’ afflictions from it were compared in high counts at a number of recent healthcare events here in town. Apparently, seasonal afflictions serve as great icebreakers.

Needless to say, I’m sure some of us have seen the doctor or pharmacist a time or two to combat these seasonal allergies, perhaps in different counties or even over state lines. Was your doctor (or even pharmacist) able to electronically pull up your medical record and see you had been treated for similar symptoms at another doctor two counties over? Was he able to forego the usual round of lab work because he had access to digital information that told him you’d had those same tests done last week at a doctor’s office not in his network?

That is the general idea of health information exchange, or HIE as it is commonly known within the industry. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, HIE is the “electronic movement of health-related information among organizations according to nationally recognized standards. The goal of health information exchange is to facilitate access to and retrieval of clinical data to provide safer, timelier, efficient, effective, equitable, patient-centered care.”

There are public, private and hybrid HIEs in every state. (View a comprehensive definition and description of these HIEs at Some connect hospitals within the same health system. Some connect several health systems together across the state. Some, like Kaiser Permanente’s, even connect facilities across state lines. Georgia’s HIE, formally know as the Georgia Health Information Network (GHIN), has been somewhat of a stagnant entity since it first received its initial funding in 2010, but several updates from Department of Community Health representatives at recent events around town tell a much different story.

The state currently has six regional HIEs up and running, and is working to better enable these entities to communicate electronically with each other, and to add more organizations to each one – the ultimate goal being to create a statewide HIE that encompasses all providers. These efforts recently received an additional infusion of funding to the tune of almost a half million dollars. As Kelly Gonzalez, Director, Division of Health IT and State Health IT Coordinator at the Georgia Department of Community Health explained at a recent luncheon, the state now has several HIE-related projects up and running, and more planned for this year and on into 2017.

Simple, secure email between participating providers is currently offered via the state HIE’s Georgia Direct program. Query-based reporting will soon be available via the Georgia Connected Care program. For those like me who aren’t familiar with the term, query-based reporting is used by providers to search and discover accessible clinical sources on a patient. This type of exchange is often used when delivering unplanned care, such as at the emergency room. This becomes incredibly helpful to the patient when they have to visit the ER while traveling. A doctor can look up the patient’s electronic medical record, even though the patient may typically receive treatment halfway across the country. This can potentially eliminate duplicate tests and medications, saving everyone time and money.

Other benefits include the ability to:

  • Enable the real-time transfer of patient information from one treating provider to another
  • Ensure the proper delivery of the right data to the right place at the right time
  • Provide methods for uniquely identifying individual patients and clinicians across facilities, counties and throughout the state
  • Employ privacy and security standards in accordance with applicable federal and state laws
  • Keep patient data with the treating provider and only access it when there is authorization and a demonstrated clinical need

I highly recommend Georgia-based patients take a look at the GA HIE website. It does a wonderful job of explaining the many facets of HIE, and what that will mean for patients in Georgia

As Dr. Jim Morrow of Morrow Family Medicine said at the same luncheon, “HIE is life changing for providers, and life saving for patients.”

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[...] What I’d really like to highlight is the fact that Georgia’s health information exchange – formally know as the Georgia Health Information Network (GaHIN) – went live at the beginning of the month thanks to the hard work of folks at the Georgia Department of Community Health. (You can read more about the mission and goals of GaHIN here.) [...]