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Program gives doctors access to records wherever they are

Paper copies of medical records are becoming a thing of the past. Now, there is a state and national effort to make electronic records accessible by doctors no matter where they are.
Paper copies of medical records are becoming a thing of the past. Now, there is a state and national effort to make electronic records accessible by doctors no matter where they are.

If you’ve ever been to a hospital or doctor who can’t seem to get your medical records, be thankful for a new web-service launching this month. It allows doctors, hospitals and health insurers to quickly send medical records to each other, even if they're not in the same network.

So far, the only subscriber to the service in the state is Washington’s Medicaid program for poor people.

Richard Onizuko, Medicaid's policy director for the state Health Care Authority, remembers vividly the first time he saw the power of having access to electronic records. At the time, he was a practicing psychologist:

“I was doing a consult on a patient from another clinic, and I didn’t have their medical record. But I realized they were at one of our clinics that had the medical record online, and I just clicked it up, and there was that patient’s medical record.”

'Flying blind' without them

This electronic sharing is common within large medical clinics. At the time, Onizuko was with the Kaiser Permanente HMO system. But even within that closed network, he says they discovered doctors didn't have the records of half their initial appointments:

"So, sometimes you were flying blind without the medical record."

That was before electronic health records. Still, today, any time you go to a specialist or hospital outside your normal system, there’s a good chance they won’t have your lab results. They might have to re-do a test.

The new system sounds like baby-steps to anyone outside of medicine. It simply allows medical records to be shared online, just like we share other documents all the time. 

Computer security

A Seattle company called OneHealthPort runs the new system that allows your records to be  uploaded and downloaded securely.

OneHealthPort CEO Rick Rubin says it's similar to how banks are networked together to allow ATM's to work. You type in your account information, and you get money, and behind the scenes different banks' computer systems have to all work together:

"As a patient, you want them to know everything they have to know. You don’t want some information siloed here, and other information siloed there."

National effort

OneHealthPort was created by doctors and hospitals a decade ago to streamline the billing process. The company won a state contract to build the new electronic records system, using $11 million in federal stimulus money.

Once that runs out, the system will be maintained by subscription fees, paid by doctors and hospitals.  For example, a small doctor’s office pays $600 a year, while the largest providers pay up to $48,000.

Using stimulus money, every state is setting up similar electronic systems with the overall goal of making medicine more efficient. 


Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.