When patients transfer from their general practitioner to a specialist, they may not think about the medical records that must transfer with them.
But health providers do. In fact, West Virginia has received national recognition for its role in electronic exchange of health information.
The West Virginia Health Information Network is the state's only state designated health information exchange. Created by the West Virginia Legislature, the network is a public-private partnership and its mission is to build a secure electronic health information system to exchange patient data.
The network's services provide an avenue to exchange patient health information electronically. And doctors can access it whenever they need it.
"This will have a long-term impact on care because doctors need a complete record of your health records to make good quality decisions," said Phil Weikle, WVHIN's CEO. "We are aggressive in getting this installed and they are doing their part in getting ready for that."
Weikle said health care providers can access an abundance of health information including lab and radiology results, medication history, immunizations, past diagnoses and allergies.
"This will allow hospital providers, whether that's primary care or specialists to exchange medical records between each other," he explained. "Say you were in a car accident on your way to Morgantown and you were taken to the hospital there. They would do an inquiry of the medical records if your provider or hospital was in that network and get information about you. In that emergency situation, they would know what medication you are on, allergies and those types of things."
In order to be part of the health information exchange, providers must have health electronic records installed. Right now, 70 percent of providers in West Virginia have electronic records program established putting the state right up with the 72 percent national average.
Before getting in the network, providers complete readiness surveys and sign participation agreements, which list requirements providers must meet.
Several hospitals and other health providers are part of the network and others have completed readiness surveys or signed participation agreements.
Weikle said the network should have 25 non-hospital providers signed up by Jan. 31 and will gain another 50 on top of that in December 2013.
"Other states are taking different methods of doing health information exchanges," Weikle said. "We are doing a statewide exchange. Others are doing regional exchanges like larger states such as Florida."
This is not to be confused with the health insurance exchange, however. The health information network, which was brought around with the Affordable Care Act and money through federal grants, is completely different, Weikle said.
The network also has another product, WVDirect, which is a secure messaging function. It allows providers to exchange information such as a lab report or a referral through a secure messaging system.
The network recently garnered national attention when the Office of National Coordinator for Health Information Technology recognized the state as a national leader for several reasons.
For one, the news release states, 97 percent of pharmacies in the Mountain State are e-prescribing. The second reason, the news release continues, is because more than 300 health care providers in West Virginia are actively using Direct Secure Messaging, called WVDirect.
"We were one of only three states that met the direct secure messaging requirement," Weikle said, noting he was not sure how many other states met the query-based exchange requirement. "We had been very aggressive and we're proud of what we have done."
But celebration was short-lived as officials quickly looked to the future, setting more aggressive goals.
"It's like we celebrated for a day and we go on for what we need to do next year," he said.
So what do they want to accomplish? Next year, Weikle said they plan to have 75 non-hospital providers to sign participation agreements and be on schedule.
"It's going to be a lot of work over the next couple of years. We want to bring in a lot of people by August 2014. That's a big date for us. … That's when we are shooting for to have a majority of people brought on."
Weikle said there is no date set for when everyone will be online but they are working on a schedule.
"We've already been in touch with many hospitals in Huntington and Charleston and others in different parts of the state. I don't know when. …They have a lot of things on their plates but we hope to be part of their schedule in the next few years."