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By David Scamurra

I am a pathologist. I am looking at a small tissue sample from the liver of a 65-year-old woman. It is malignant. Someone has scrawled “cancer history” on the requisition. I call the surgeon, who has no information. The patient can’t remember the details. I leave two messages for the primary doc, who gets back to me the next morning. The patient is new to him and he has no documentation of previous lesions. So I order 15 special stains to try to determine the tumors’ origin. What else could I do?

In Western New York, I can log on to HEALTHeLINK in less than a minute. I find the patient had a positive breast biopsy four years ago. I order three stains instead of 15, avoid a day delay and three phone calls. I make the diagnosis.

HEALTHeLINK is the most functional health data exchange in the United States, but it needs more effort to fulfill its potential. We need to increase provider adoption and patient consent.

Barriers to physician adoption are primarily cost and successful integration of the exchange into daily workflow. Some of the cost is being addressed by the government and local health plan-sponsored programs and groups like Catholic Medical Partners. We currently have one of the highest physician use rates of electronic medical records in the country. However, simple installation of HEALTHeLINK is not enough. Physicians need to make it part of everyday practice and not an “extra” step that seems disruptive. There are resources at HEALTHeLINK and local consultants who can work with your office to make this transition productive. The utility of this asset will be dramatic once it is operational.

For patients, the main barrier to consent is concern about data security. Data in HEALTHeLINK is just as secure, if not more so, than your same data that exists now in physician, hospital and pharmacy computer systems. If you have ever been told in a doctor’s office that your test result “is not back yet” and treatment will be delayed, then you understand how useful HEALTHeLINK is to your care. If you are ever in a life-threatening medical emergency and physicians need to know vital medical history that you or your family can’t supply, then HEALTHeLINK can literally save your life. More than 450,000 persons have consented already. The more on board, the more effective this becomes.

I urge business and political leaders to understand better the potential of HEALTHeLINK by contacting our offices. We already have here a low-cost health care system. HEALTHeLINK gives our area the advantage of being able to better control costs and identify quality of care. This means your health care premiums will be more efficiently used, employees will be healthier and our area can be a very attractive place for businesses to relocate. HEALTHeLINK is truly on the national cutting edge. Let’s use this to our advantage.

David Scamurra, M.D., is vice chairman of HEALTHeLINK.