eHealth Technologies blog: John Reifenberger, Director, Project Management/Customer Success, Image Exchange

I have been involved with Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) since 1998. First as a CIO at a long-term acute care hospital, then managing the operations of HealthBridge, and finally overseeing the deployment of twenty-six state and regional HIEs for Axolotl. Recently I took a few years off to try early retirement – in which I failed at miserably (I’ll explain how not to fail at retirement in a future blog).

In August I came back to work as the Director of Project Management/Customer Success for Image Exchange at eHealth Technologies. I have known about opens in a new window eHealth Connect® Image Exchange since 2009 when Axolotl partnered with eHealth Technologies to embed image links in reports. The benefit of Image Exchange, image-enabled HIE workflows, and the positive impact it has for patients and their families has always been impressive to me.

In the HIE world we spend a lot of time talking about interoperability, population health, collaborating with CMS, ONC, and payers, and technology enhancements like API’s and FHIR. If you take the time to connect all the dots and drill down through all the data and the technology, you really get a glimpse of how it benefits the patient.

With an image-enabled HIE you see the benefits for the patients and their families immediately. Take, for example, hip replacement candidates. opens in a new windowHip replacement surgeries are on the rise and are expected to grow by 170 percent in the US by the year 2030. In most cases, before seeing a surgeon, patients experience hip problems for several years and have x-rays taken on multiple occasions at different orthopaedic clinics and hospitals. At some point, when the pain becomes intolerable or daily activities are impacted, the patient finally decides to see an orthopedic surgeon.

At the first appointment, the patient is often asked if they have ever had x-rays of the hip and the answer is sometimes, “as recent as last week.” The patient is escorted to an exam room where the medical assistant asks, “did you bring the x-rays?”

In many cases, the patient does not have the medical images on hand. If the patient is lucky, the practice is affiliated with the health system where the recent x-rays were taken so the surgeon can access them. If that’s not the case or when they have unsuccessfully looked everywhere to locate the images, the patient is either rescheduled and told to bring them in the next time (keep in mind – this is an appointment the patient may have waited 4-8 weeks for) or told “that’s not a problem we will just take them again here.”

This scenario can be particularly stressful when it’s for an elderly family member that a caregiver is taking to their appointment.

If the patient happens to live within an image-aware, image-enable HIE community, this hurdle is easily overcome as the orthopedic surgeon has access to the images and can confirm that it’s time for a hip replacement at that first appointment. Say goodbye to delays in treatment and repeated x-rays.

The role that medical images play in the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions is critical, evidenced by the fact that opens in a new window10% of the spending on health care in the US is consumed by medical imaging. But, studies have also found that up to opens in a new window1 in 3 medical imaging exams are not necessary and the Institute of Medicine reports that $8 billion is spent annually on repeat testing.

Providers often don’t want to take the time to look for previous imaging studies because the process is tedious, so the faster and simpler approach is to just order a new study which is costly and subjects the patient to unnecessary radiation. What if that burden could be removed for clinical teams? If access to previous images were literally available with just a single click? eHealth Technologies helps makes this a reality for HIEs through Image Exchange.

All of this and more is possible today with image-enabled HIEs: fewer headaches for providers and more efficient and streamlined care for patients. No repeat testing, no overexposure to radiation for patients, no rescheduling appointments that slow down the development of a treatment plan. Our goal is ensuring that every patient has the capability to benefit from all that HIEs have to offer.