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San Antonio Hospitals Begin Sharing Medical Records Online

Eileen Pace
DD Belair shows the thick binder she has filled with medical data covering years of treatment for a genetic condition that affects her daughter. Such data today can be maintained electronically and shared among hospitals and doctors.

Local healthcare officials gathered at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Tuesday to announce a new program that will digitize the medical records of every patient in its hospital and every hospital in the San Antonio region.

The information is designed to be shared in real time with other hospitals and eventually, all of the patient’s doctors and the patients themselves.

Following the virtual ribbon-cutting that announced the new electronic Health Information Exchange, local member hospitals are uploading secure medical records of about 600,000 patients. The H.I.E. offers the free and collaborative exchange of patient records among the Baptist Health System, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care System, Nix Health, Methodist Healthcare System and University Health Systems.

Gijs Van Oort, executive director of Healthcare Access San Antonio, the entity that designed and built the program, said offering electronic recording of health information satisfies the 'portability' requirement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. Providing a digital medical data system is required, but participation in it is not. Patients may elect to opt out of the system.

Editor's Note: The original version of this story contained an incorrect acronym for the HIPAA Act of 1996 and cited information contained in the press release for this story that, "One of the Ps stands for portability of patient records." Since there is only one P in the acronym, this further clarification is unnecessary. The correct changes have been made in the previous paragraph.

Van Oort said getting to the launch tooks years of work, and not just for the infrastructure. 

"It really takes a lot of time just to get buy-in of the concept," he said. "And then we go work with the organizations like the hospitals that have such layered structures. To really make all this stuff work, it’s a very arduous process."

DD Belair, whose daughter was born with a serious medical condition, carries a thick, pink binder full of her child’s medical history. She said the electronic sharing system offers more peace of mind.

"Anything that we choose to do could definitely be kept electronically so that any physician she sees all over the world could have that information," Belair said.

Van Oort said even though there is stiff competition in terms of attracting patients, the local hospitals are on board with sharing patient data.

"There’s no doubt that hospitals really are staking out their service areas and different services, but they’ve made from the beginning an agreement that when it comes to patient information, they’re not going to compete for it," Van Oort said.

Van Oort said the San Antonio electronic system was patterned after the one already in use in Austin. He said Dallas and Houston are not far behind, and eventually, all the networks will be able to communicate with each other.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.