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Statewide network of medical records promises to improve care

A plan to spend $55 million over the next few years building a statewide database of electronic medical records will allow doctors to provide patients better care, at a lower cost and with less wasted time, New York’s acting health commissioner said Tuesday in Buffalo.

The program will link up electronic records systems already established in Buffalo Niagara and across the state, creating a unified health information exchange that promises medical providers in one part of New York easy access to patient records in another part of the state.

Buffalo’s HEALTHeLINK, which has records from 630,000 area patients, is one of 10 regional networks that will form the Statewide Health Information Network of New York, or SHIN-NY.

“The SHIN-NY is one of the most important investments the state has made to improve the quality and efficiency of our health care delivery system,” Dr. Howard Zucker, the acting state health commissioner, said during a news conference Tuesday in the state Health Department’s Buffalo offices.

Since 2008, 125 million electronic medical reports have been generated through HEALTHeLINK alone, and hospitals, doctors’ offices and other facilities in this area create nearly 2 million new reports every month.

Today, nearly 600 practices, 3,100 providers and all of the hospitals in the eight counties of Western New York are part of HEALTHeLINK, said Daniel E. Porreca, the system’s executive director.

But the records are accessible only to providers within the area, as is the case with each region’s electronic records database.

The $55 million committed in the current state budget will allow the state to connect each local database into one statewide information network.

The SHIN-NY system will speed up treatment for patients, lower administrative costs and offer better continuity of care when patients go to a new medical provider, Zucker said.

The need to quickly gain access to up-to-date patient health records is particularly acute in major emergencies, such as hurricanes, when hospitals are crowded with victims who may not already be in their system and who may not be conscious and able to provide a medical history, he said.

HEALTHeLINK’s board chairman, Dr. David Scamurra, said electronic medical records allow him and his colleagues to more easily communicate and share accurate information about their patients.

“It’s a dynamic and fundamental change in the way that we practice medicine,” said Scamurra, a pathologist with Eastern Great Lakes Pathology.