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Maine Health Information Exchange Adds Medical Images

HealthInfoNet, Maine's health information exchange, becomes first in the nation to support statewide sharing of X-rays, CT scans, and other medical images.

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HealthInfoNet, Maine's designated state health information exchange (HIE), will throw on the switch to medical image archiving and sharing Thursday, making the HIE the first in the nation to support statewide sharing of X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, mammograms, and other medical images.

HealthInfoNet, which went live in 2009 and currently supports the exchange of health records for 1 million of the 1.3 million people who live in the state, this week will begin a pilot to make patients' medical images accessible to the state's healthcare providers.

Until now, HealthInfoNet provided access to medical image reports, but now physicians will also have instant access to the actual images themselves, rather than waiting for image copies to be sent (for example) on disks, said Jerry Edson, a consultant on the HealthInfoNet medical imaging project, and former CIO of Maine Medical Center.

"We had the image reports in the HIE, but people want the images," he said. That's particularly the case for rural Maine physicians who don't have access to picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) but want to view in a timely manner patients' medical images, for example, to compare the progression of a disease or injury against previous image studies, he said.

[ Some hospitals and clinicians are fighting quick patient access to medical records. See Compromise On Health Data Access May Be Ugly. ]

HealthInfoNet will be able to link each image with a single patient identifier through its HIE Master Person Index, allowing clinicians to search for all a patient's prior images to track changes over time.

The HealthInfoNet medical image archive is supported through a cloud-based architecture and services provided by Dell, which in December 2010 acquired medical image archiving vendor InSite One, said Jim Champagne, executive director of Dell services industry sector, and former CEO of InSite One.

Currently, for healthcare clients, including HealthInfoNet, Dell (via its Unified Clinical Archive technology and services) manages approximately 71 million clinical image studies comprised of more than 5 billion images from over 800 clinical imaging centers, said Champagne.

The HealthInfoNet archive includes five years of previous images studies and is expected to generate about 1.8 million new medical images containing more than 45 terabytes of data annually. HealthInfoNet also estimates that by consolidating medical images onto a single archive, Maine healthcare providers will save a total of $6 million over seven years through a reduction of distributed image storage and transport costs.

HealthInfoNet, Dell, and the pilot group of Maine health care organizations will work together over the summer to confirm the system design and integrate the service with existing PACS systems and the HIE. HealthInfoNet expects to end the pilot phase in the fall and expand the service statewide by 2013.

There will be 52 imaging centers in Maine participating in the medical image archive, which represents about 80% of all medical images generated in the state. Other providers are expected to join HealthInfoNet in the meantime, as well.

As part of its medical imaging offerings, Dell provides more than 10,000 interfaces to PACS so that those systems can connect to its cloud-based archives.

HealthInfoNet, an independent, non-profit organization, currently has 34 of Maine's 39 hospitals contracted to participate in its HIE, and 25 of them are already connected. There are also 182 physicians groups in Maine currently participating in the HIE, and 25 behavioral health centers will also be connected by year end. In addition, long-term care facilities and home nursing providers are also signing up. Healthcare providers pay a subscription fee to participate in the HIE.

In addition to the latest medical imaging services being offered by HealthInfoNet, the HIE also supports the exchange of patient clinical data including hospital discharge summaries, medication histories and e-prescribing info, lab results, diagnoses, problem lists, allergies, and claims information.

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