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20 February 2012

Powerful Utah health care tool just a click away

Quick: What are those oblong yellow pills you take? What dosage? Are your children's shots up to date?

In an emergency, few of us could rattle off this vital information. But Utahns have access to a powerful tool that can help health professionals anywhere in the state to save their life, improve their health care and potentially reduce medical spending.

It's easy to use - all we have to do is sign up. The rest is automatic.

With patient permission, doctors and nurses can access our medical records through Utah's Clinical Health Information Exchange (cHIE). This information channel was developed by the Utah Health Information Network (UHIN), a broad-based coalition of Utah health care insurers (including Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah), providers, and the state of Utah.

Allowing medical professionals quick and timely access to our records though cHIE is a potent curb on some of the most common problems in our health care system - a lack of shared information that results in:

* Uncoordinated care

* Medical errors

* Curb spending on duplication and waste of costly medical services

We have heard some concerns about confidentiality and motives behind information sharing. One important consumer protection provision allows people who enroll in cHIE to check who has accessed their records at any time, and why. All of the confidential medical data is encrypted, and protected by federal laws regarding patient privacy.

We must come to terms with the reality that much of our medical information is already shared among providers and insurers, and already in electronic form in some hospital systems. But this piecemeal approach is too narrow for the lives most of us lead - using different health care systems, pharmacies and facilities.

The current state of data sharing is fragmented and limited. Information is not always available to providers when they are making crucial treatment decisions.

UHIN CEO Jan Root makes a powerful case:

"The cHIE could save your life. If you end up in the emergency room, doctors could find out what allergies you have, what medications you take, and what health conditions you have. When your health information is shared on the cHIE, your doctors can get the information they need to give you the best possible care whether you can tell them or not. And the cHIE never sleeps, so your health information is available to your participating doctors anytime, anywhere in Utah.

You cannot personally reap the benefits of cHIE without participating. And as a state, the more of us who volunteer to share data through this secure system, the more we can learn that may improve our care and reduce unneeded medical spending.

Although the program has the backing of our state's major hospital networks, only about 32,000 Utahns have enrolled so far. That's why you may soon see ads and signs urging you to sign up for cHIE. We feel so strongly about the importance of participation that The Regence Foundation has contributed $90,000 to help UHIN buy ads to explain to Utahns why it's so important both to individuals and to all of us together.

You can learn more at and download a consent form. Then, take it to your health care provider to talk it over and get more information about how your participation works.

A lot of things about our health care system need to be fixed. Signing up for cHIE is one simple thing we can do as consumers, as patients, and as Utahns who care about each other's health care quality and affordability.