A statewide digital network to exchange health records goes live Sunday and Wichita providers will be among the first in the state to start sharing information.
The Kansas Health Information Exchange has been years in the making.
Stakeholders began preliminary work on the infrastructure in 2005, and then governor Kathleen Sebilius accelerated efforts in 2007 with the establishment of the Kansas Health Information Exchange Commission.
Now, seven years later the Kansas Health Information Exchange is ready to go and starting July 1 physicians, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies will be able to start sharing health information electronically.
Bill Wallace is the CEO of the Kansas Health Information Exchange, which isn't an exchange per se, but rather the governing body of the two private companies authorized to operate exchanges in the state - the Kansas Health Information Network and the Missouri based Lewis and Clark information exchange.
He says providers across the state will contract with one of the two exchanges, which will immediately be able to share information with other providers that use that same network.
"Those two exchanges accept reports or excerpts of the records from electronic medical records systems located in medical providers offices," says Wallace.
"And those may be doctors of federally qualified health centers, rural health care clinics, any kind of allied health professional licensed by the state of Kansas and exchange them between and among each other."
Here in Wichita a group of providers worked alongside statewide efforts, organizing together to be early adopters of the exchange.
Among those is Wesley Medical Center, which, along with other early adopters, will start using the KHIN network to share information on July 15.
Wesley CFO Matt Leary says Wichita providers have a very active and robust medical society that organized together to be the first to sign on to the system
"We've got some individuals that have been on the forefront of the sharing of information, this exchange of information, to help coordinate care better, reduce unnecessary costs, procedures, testing and that, so I think they saw the writing on the wall and got out in front," says Leary.
He says it will likely be a while before providers statewide are ready and able to start using the exchange, but because of the organized group in Wichita, some local information will be available pretty quickly.
The exchange won't ne retroactive - for example, it will accumulate information from Wesley from July 15 onward.
And because information will trickle in as patients visit their providers, it will be years before a substantial information archive is created.
But, says Leary, it will mean big improvements in the delivery of care.
"Let's use the easy example," says Leary, "a patient presents to our emergency room in some sort of condition, maybe their not conscious, they don't have a family member with them, you know we don't really carry our medical records in our pocket."
"What we now will have the ability to do, and we are getting this loaded on the computers, an ER doctor or nurse can log into this statewide exchange with a couple pieces of demographic information and be able to go get some fundamental information about that patient, you know any recent test results, lab results, medications that they are one."
And eventually, when images and scan results are available over the network doctors will be able to avoid the repeat testing that is currently necessary when there isn't time for documents like X-rays and CT scans to be mailed hand delivered.
Patient information will be automatically shared over the network, but only after an agency has offered its patients updated privacy or HIPAA information, which includes information about how to opt out of the statewide network.
Security concerns have been common, especially in the first states to sign with statewide exchanges, but Bill Wallace of the Kansas Health Information Exchange says it is a secure network.
"You know, for years until the advent of the electronic medical records, care transitions, as they are called when you visit one provider and they are handed off to a specialist or a hospital, or from a hospital to a rehab or nursing home facility, those were handled basically through fax records or through phone calls," says Wallace."
"And in fact, those could essentially be mis-sent to a wrong number, … Paper, obviously preceded all of this, and paper records are inherently insecure."
Wallace says under HIPAA the records are required to be encrypted while they sit in storage, and when they transition over the network.
Matt Leary of Wesley says with the exchange's ability to share pertinent information in a medical emergency, the greater risk is opting out, and could be the difference between life and death.