Hospitals that access health information exchanges to gather information on patients in the emergency department are more likely to see improved patient outcomes and reduce the number of physician consults, according to a new study in SSRN.com.

Data exchange has been touted as a way to improve quality of care and reduce costs, but there have been few actual studies testing this hypothesis. This study is one of the first of its kind to assess the impact of HIE access on individual patient and hospital outcomes. The researchers reviewed nearly 86,000 encounters at four EDs operated by Binghamton, N.Y.-based UHS that were connected to HealthlinkNY, an HIE provider in the state of New York. The study investigated 46,270 patient visits from July 2012 to January 2014. 

The study found that when the attending physician used the HIE to obtain information about the patient, the length of stay was reduced 7 percent, the odds of patient readmission to any ED within 30 days was reduced 4.5 percent and the number of consultations by multiple physicians decreased 12 percent.

“This is groundbreaking,” says Christina Galanis, president and CEO of Binghamton-based HealthlinkNY.

New York’s network is somewhat unique in that all hospitals were required to connect to an HIE by March 9 of this year, says Galanis. Healthlinkny is in partnership with the Statewide Health Information Network of New York, which connects the eight regional health information organizations in the state. “It’s a pretty robust environment and we’re all connected to each other. In effect, we’ve created a state HIE,” Galanis says.

The results of the study are promising, but still reflect relatively small use of the HIE. The total number of attending doctors in the study was 326. 

The next step is to increase use of the HIE and embed it into providers’ workflow, according to Galanis.

“The HIE provides value, is easy to use and protects patient privacy and security. Hospitals need to make HIE use a priority [now that it’s been shown that it] improves quality and the bottom line. This is especially important with the move to value based care,” Galanis says.

“The levers are in place to start to use this large wonderful infrastructure that’s underused. Imagine what the numbers would be if 50 percent of doctors used the HIE,” she says.