A community-wide electronic health information exchange (HIE) that provides ubiquitous access to clinical records can reduce the frequency of often-costly repeat imaging, a recent study in the American Journal of Managed Care has found.

The study, which was published online on Jan. 14, 2015, looked at the incidence of repeat imaging among 34,600 patients in an 11-county region across western New York who had at least one imaging procedure during a 90-day period.

Repeat imaging is often required to determine changes in a patient’s condition. But it also occurs when providers don’t have ready access to previous images. In those instances, the existing images may have offered sufficient clinical information for current diagnosis or treatment. Studies have estimated that between 9% and 40% of all medical images are repeated, regardless of the reason.

According to the AJMC report, repeat imaging was less likely to occur when providers accessed the HIE system. Specifically, 5.2% of imaging procedures were repeated when the system was accessed, versus a repeat rate of 8% when the regional health information organization (RHIO) was not accessed. After controlling for patient characteristics and utilization, provider access of the HIE system after the initial imaging was independently associated with 25% lower odds of repeat imaging, the study states. Imaging procedures examined included a wide range of modalities.

The article’s authors noted that the federal government and many states are investing heavily in health information technologies that support HIEs. At the federal level, incentives have been developed to foster the utilization of electronic health records (EHRs) that are compatible with HIEs.

“This study demonstrates that a community-wide portal is effective for reducing repeat imaging, thus suggesting a technology-driven improvement in care that represents both higher quality and potentially lower costs,” the authors wrote.

The AJMC study examined imaging frequency among patients whose medical data is collected in the Rochester RHIO, an HIE established in 2009. HIEs are designed to enable seamless sharing of patient clinical records between and among diverse healthcare entities. RHIO has gathered information on more than 800,000 patients from about 70 healthcare organizations operating in more than 150 outpatient, inpatient, emergency and long-term care settings.

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