December 15, 2011

Lecture explores promise of health information exchanges

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Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S., makes a point during his Discovery Lecture last week. (photo by Steve Green)

Lecture explores promise of health information exchanges

Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S., surprised last week’s Discovery Lecture audience with a short documentary movie premiere – and bags of fresh popcorn.

The movie was one part of a full documentary that Johnson and colleagues are producing to introduce consumers to the concept of a health information exchange (HIE). HIEs are a mobilization of health care information electronically across organizations within a region, community or hospital system.

One challenge in our current health care system is the fragmentation of care: patients with chronic disease have an average of seven providers who follow them, said Johnson, professor and vice chair of Biomedical Informatics and professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt.

“Because of that fragmentation, we put patients in an unrealistic role of having to both cope with an illness and be the glue that connects all of those health care providers.”

Johnson and colleagues evaluated an HIE in the Memphis area that connected nine health care organizations with 30 sites of care, six different electronic health record vendors and 2 million patients. They found that HIE access reduced overall costs by more than $1 million, mostly by reducing hospital admissions.

Despite these “fantastic data about economics, providers and workflow,” the investigators didn’t have a way to measure impact on patients, Johnson said. An actor friend suggested a film, and the documentary project was born. Five video shorts are now available on the Health Information Partnership for Tennessee website:

“I think we’re going to be able to teach the country a lot about what HIE can do from the patient perspective, and we’re excited about it,” Johnson said.

For a complete schedule of the Discovery Lecture series and archived video of previous lectures, go to