There are numerous benefits to the increased use of electronic health records and health information exchange (HIE). It’s all about getting the right information to the right place at the right time.

One specific area of medicine that is tailor made for advances in technology is medical image exchange (MIE). Images can be shared conveniently and cost effectively in real-time. Utilizing MIE can eliminate the expensive and time-consuming process of transferring images on CDs and can minimize redundant imaging, which often is not reimbursable and exposes patients to unnecessary radiation. The HIE can also allow physicians to forward images to out-of -network providers.

Greater Houston Healthconnect (Healthconnect) has a robust MIE program. Tonja Money, vice president of business development at Healthconnect, says, “The technology we use allows imaging data to be securely uploaded, archived and viewed remotely in the cloud and transported wherever and whenever it is needed. This is a terrific value added service we offer to the members of our HIE.”

Healthconnect is also leading the way in utilizing HIE to improve Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Healthconnect is supporting the City of Houston Fire Department and other provider organizations to launch the scheduling and interoperability component of a new program called ETHAN, or Emergency Tele-Health and Navigation.

The purpose of the program is to help reduce the number of inappropriate EMS ambulance runs to an emergency room for cases that are not true emergencies. ETHAN utilizes the Verizon wireless network and Panasonic computer tablets to triage patients who have non-life threatening minor illnesses by connecting patients via telemedicine with an emergency physician at the City of Houston Emergency Center. The optimal result is that a clinic appointment can be made to handle the medical need, while also avoiding a costly and unnecessary trip in an ambulance.

“Using the HIE, we are able to access patients’ relevant medical history and preexisting conditions, if they have opted in,” says Dr. Michael Gonzalez, director of the ETHAN program and associate medical director for Houston Fire/EMS. He adds, “The program started late last year and already we have served more than 4,200 patients with fewer than 20 percent ending up taking an ambulance. We think that is a great success and positive sign of what technology is doing to improve healthcare in our communities.”

HIE Spotlight: Greater Houston Healthconnect