Delaware seems to be taking the early lead in the race to implement a successful electronic health record and health information exchange. The Delaware Health Information Network (DHIN) goes live this week. According to the network’s builders, Perot Systems of Plano, TX and Medicity of Salt Lake City, UT, it is the first implementation of a statewide health information exchange.

Another noteworthy aspect of the “go-live” stage is that this network will first be used to deliver laboratory test results, radiology reports, and admission, discharge, and transfer reports to participants in the launch, which includes three hospital systems, five doctors’ practices with 30 offices and 70 physicians among them, and Laboratory Corporation of America. The network will deliver all laboratory test results in the same standard format, regardless of where they originate. The reports can be delivered by fax or e-mail. They can also be transferred into a provider’s e-health records system.

Compared to other states, Delaware is already above the national average for physicians using electronic medical records (EMRs). More than 30% of physicians in Delaware now use them. Once the DHIN is up and operational, physicians will need only a PC running Windows and a high-speed Internet connection to use the service. These simple requirements to hook up are making many doctors eager to participate in the DHIN.

Delaware is light years ahead of many other states in their implementation of a health information network and electronic health records. Laboratory managers and pathologists should track the progress of the Delaware Health Information Network and the expanded use of electronic health records (EHRs) in Delaware for a forecast of what will likely happen in other states as regional and statewide health information networks and exchanges are implemented. The ability to get laboratory results to doctors quickly, using an electronic connection and a common reporting format, will undoubtedly trigger competitive changes between hospital laboratory outreach programs, independent regional laboratories, and the national lab companies.

But, despite its potential, the Delaware Regional Health Network must demonstrate that both the software technology and the implementation plan can deliver a reliable electronic pipeline that connects hospitals, office-based physicians, payers, laboratories, and other providers. Over the past two decades, there have been efforts, projects, and initiatives to create regional health data repositories. To date, none have lived up the potential and the hype of the IT gurus who support the concept.

Because Delaware is a relatively small state, by population; and because of advances in information technology, the about-to-go-live DHIN just might be the “proof of concept” many have waited to see. A health information network that can push laboratory test results, radiology reports, and admission, discharge, and transfer reports across all the healthcare stakeholders in a region is much desired and long-awaited. For that reason, any successes and setbacks with the Delaware Health Information Network are likely to attract national attention.

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