Medical Records Moving from Paper to Pixels in South Carolina

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The newly launched South Carolina Health Information Exchange, or SCHIEx, has made 800,000 medical histories of Medicaid enrollees available to physicians, clinics, and hospitals.

Launched in late July, SCHIEx serves as a Web portal providers can use to look up medical information, including prescription and treatment history, allergy information, and other data, on Medicaid-enrolled patients.

Privacy a Concern

In an attempt to minimize the security risk in electronic sharing of medical records, the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will host the electronic data itself instead of allowing it to be housed on providers' office and personal computers. The password-protected SCHIEx portal allows encrypted records to be viewed by providers when requested.

In addition, program officials within South Carolina's DHHS report they have "a staff that monitors the program to prevent any breaches in security."

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"Medical privacy for many people is one of the most important forms of privacy," said Graham Boyd, interim executive director of the state's national office for the American Civil Liberties Union. Past drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatments are examples of information not available to providers through SCHIEx; however, information about mental illnesses and STDs is available through the system.

Increasing Availability

"Claims data already existed electronically but was not immediately available to providers," said Jeff Stensl, director of public information for the South Carolina Medicaid agency.

The quick accessibility and comprehensiveness of online medical records make this an innovation medical providers almost universally favor, said Christine Bechtel, vice president of eHealth Initiative, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates improvement in the quality, safety, and efficiency of health care through information and information technology. "If you talk to the physicians who have adopted, they'll wish they would have done it sooner," she said.

"It is challenging, and requires a lot of time and resources" to convert piles of paper to digital records, Bechtel added, "but many doctors conclude the initial cost pays off."

The state's Medicaid recipients have been automatically enrolled in the SCHIEx program regardless of their views about online medical records and e-health. Enrollees can opt out by calling a toll-free DHHS telephone number.

Mark Jackson ([email protected]) writes from Massachusetts.

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