The Value of Sharing Information About Patients

Health information exchanges (HIEs) aim to solve a fundamental health care problem: unreliable and inefficient health information sharing. When providers do not have the right information in the right place at the right time, care coordination is difficult, lab tests are unnecessarily repeated, and patients are left struggling to remember their medications every time they see a new provider.

HIEs centralize health information from across different hospitals and providers to create an electronic community health record for each patient. This community health record enables providers to see the full picture of a patient’s health history from across the continuum.

When physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other providers have secure electronic access to this essential medical information, there is significant potential to improve the efficiency, quality, and safety of patient care.

For example, a 2015 study by the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings found that querying a regional HIE was associated with significant reductions in laboratory tests and radiology examinations in Emergency Departments (EDs).

  • Reduced Radiology Examinations: Querying the regional HIE was associated with a 47 percent reduction in the estimated number of radiology examinations in one ED setting.
  • Reduced Laboratory Tests: In a second ED setting, querying the regional HIE was associated with a 25 percent reduction in the estimated number of laboratory tests and a 26 percent reduction in the estimated number of radiology examinations.

Additionally, a 2015 study in the American Journal of Managed Care found that the odds of repeating an imaging procedure (within 90 days following the initial procedure) decreased by 25% with HIE access.

These studies demonstrate that HIE access can decrease duplicate testing and imaging. Additionally, HIE access is thought to have the following benefits, which contribute to higher quality care and lower health care costs.

  • Avoid medication errors
  • Improve decision making
  • Improve care coordination and transitions of care
  • Decrease readmissions
  • Decrease administrative time to track down records

Therefore, HIE participation can be an important tool toward improving quality and reducing costs.