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Iowa doctors can now access Nebraska records

BY AARON WALKER | SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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A system of direct messaging will now allow doctors in Iowa to access Nebraska patients’ health records and vice versa.

Instead of faxing or mailing, the new reciprocal communication will make it significantly easier for physicians to send and receive healthcare information. The program relies on encrypted, email-like direct messages.

“[It’s] a lot like secure email in that the information travels in a way that’s not able to be viewed by the general public and goes right into our electronic medical records,” said Douglas Van Daele, a University of Iowa associate professor of otolaryngology.

The system benefits both the patients and the physicians by shortening the time it takes to send and receive information.  It also prevents unnecessary tests and studies that have already been conducted.

“I think it’s a really important thing and one of the biggest things we struggle with,” Van Daele said.

It will also ease the process of obtaining information for urgent-care victims, said Kristy Walker, the senior IT director of UI Health Care Information Systems.

“If someone arrives unconscious and we identify they’re from Nebraska, we can put out a request to have this person’s medical records,” Walker said.

Mike Mullinnix, the lead application developer for Health Care Information Systems, said the program will also make a Nebraska doctor’s job easier if he or she refers a patient to the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

“If a physician would send us a patient, as soon as he’s discharged, we could send that medical information to them via direct messaging,” Mullinix said.

Although the program will help doctors at UIHC, the bulk of people benefiting will be those who live in western Iowa and often visit hospitals in the Omaha region.

“It primarily affects hospitals near the border, but the University of Iowa gets [patients] from all over the place,” said Kim Norby, executive director of Iowa E-Health, the state’s health information network. “[It’s] definitely something they’ll use and work with as well.”

Norby said he was confident in the electronic safety of sending information suchas this.

“[It] seems exactly like email, has a similar address called a direct address,” Norby said. “They can’t go to the same place because it’s direct and encrypted, so it would reject if you sent it to normal email address. “

Norby said Iowa doctors are able to use direct messaging in order to obtain information from other states such as Illinois, Missouri, and South Dakota. Officials are in the process of establishing a connection with Minnesota.

The growing nature of information has forced these states to interact and share information to optimize care and production.

“It benefits the people who live in Iowa and Nebraska because we’ve proven health care doesn’t stop at state lines,” said Deb Bass, executive director of the Nebraska Health Information Initiative. “[It] saves time, improves safety, and prevents redundancies.”


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