A bid to expand sharing of Californians' medical records

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Seeking to jump-start an initiative to share Californians' medical records among different providers, two medical database companies are hoping to join forces to create a new organization with millions of patient records.

The merger of Cal INDEX and Inland Empire Health Information Exchange would create an organization with an estimated 16.7 million medical and insurance claims records accessible to health care providers.

The goal is to have "information that can follow the patient wherever they go" in a bid to improve the quality of care and save money, said Claudia Williams, the incoming CEO of the as-yet-unnamed new organization.

"The promise of a Health Information Exchange is to bring together information from across these many sources: medical records of clinicians as well as [insurance] claims and other information," she said.

Cal INDEX was established in 2014 by two of the state’s largest insurance providers: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The Inland Empire Health Information Exchange was formed in 2009.

Access to records "is a way to have that 360-degree view" of a patient who has sought care from different providers, said Dr. Bradley Gilbert, chairman of the Inland Empire Exchange. That can be especially helpful in complicated medical cases, he said.

"It’s unlikely they would know all their medications in detail," said Gilbert, "but if the doctor can pull up their medication list they’ll immediately know [if the] medicine is incompatible or duplicating a medicine they already have."

Gilbert laid out another scenario, in which a patient goes to an ER with a bad headache and the doctor on duty thinks a CAT scan is required. "If that patient had a CAT scan a week ago somewhere else that was part of the [health information exchange] they'd be able to pull up the results of the CAT scan."

The merger is subject to approval by the state attorney general.

The concept of patient record sharing has been around at least 20 years. Federal funding has been used to establish several databases around the country, including the Statewide Health Information Network for New York.

While some databases have "flourished," according to Williams, there's been reluctance among some health care providers and insurers in California and elsewhere to join exchanges.

"That’s why the merger is so good," said Gilbert, "because the more providers you have, the more data you have [and] the more useful that data is."

​This article was amended on 1/11/17 to clarify that Claudia Williams is not CEO of Cal INDEX. She will be CEO of the as-yet-unnamed new entity effective February 1st.

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