San Francisco launching new Health Information Exchange 

San Francisco is on the cusp of launching a groundbreaking new health care initiative that will transform medical care in our city for the better.

The San Francisco Health Information Exchange will allow the city’s health care providers to securely and efficiently exchange patient health information. It will additionally allow patients access to their personal community health record. This program will dramatically improve patient care in San Francisco and save millions of dollars in overall health care costs.

Anyone who has moved to a new doctor knows how the process of transferring medical records and personal health information can be slow, frustrating, and bureaucratic. Imagine going through that process during a crisis.

Today, exchange of clinical information in San Francisco is highly variable in terms of its timeliness, reliability and effectiveness. Most providers and organizations continue to use telephones, faxes, the U.S. mail and physical messengers for clinical collaboration. New information from outside sources is frequently unavailable to providers at the point of care, and if it is, the information is often incomplete, illegible or both. This process leads to inefficiencies in terms of costs and precious lost time as routine procedures and expensive tests can be duplicated by multiple health care providers.

Until recently, the idea of a unified patient record that aggregates all available clinical data when it is needed had been just a dream. But now, with support from President Barack Obama’s stimulus legislation, which contains funding for health information technology, we can make that dream a reality.

On May 28, 2009, a San Francisco town hall addressing the creation of a citywide health information exchange was packed with enthusiastic local stakeholders. Less than one year later, the first meeting of the San Francisco Health Information Exchange Governance Committee included all the major health care organizations in San Francisco at the table.

The Governance Committee has since outlined a detailed collective vision for the future health information exchange in San Francisco. Having developed the business and technology plans, the focus is now on pursuing grants and funding. With the pieces fitting together, the exchange should launch in early 2012.

The San Francisco Health Information Exchange is groundbreaking work and will bring San Francisco’s health information sector into the 21st century.

David Chiu is president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Arieh Rosenbaum, M.D. is chair of the San Francisco Health Information Exchange Governance Committee.

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