Doctors Find Barriers to Sharing Digital Medical Records

Julie Creswell | New York Times | September 30, 2014

...While most providers have installed some kind of electronic record system, two recent studies have found that fewer than half of the nation’s hospitals can transmit a patient care document, while only 14 percent of physicians can exchange patient data with outside hospitals or other providers.

“We’ve spent half a million dollars on an electronic health record system about three years ago, and I’m faxing all day long. I can’t send anything electronically over it,” said Dr. William L. Rich III, a member of a nine-person ophthalmology practice in Northern Virginia and medical director of health policy for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Gelot, the ear, nose and throat specialist, uses a system made by Practice Fusion. His local medical center, Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, relies on a program built by Epic Systems.

There is no evidence that either company does a better or worse job of sharing information. But Epic and its enigmatic founder, Judith R. Faulkner, are being denounced by those who say its empire has been built with towering walls, delberately built not to share patient information with competing systems. Almost 18 months after an Epic system was installed at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, physicians there still cannot transmit a patient care document to doctors two miles south at Mercy Medical Center, which uses a system made by another major player in the field, the Cerner Corporation.

Where interconnectivity between systems does occur, it often happens with steep upfront connecting charges or recurring fees, creating what some see as a digital divide between large hospital systems that have money and technical personnel and small, rural hospitals or physician practices that are overwhelmed, financially and technologically...