For decades, Harris Corporation ensured that communication between fighter pilots and aircraft carriers or ground troops and commanders, could not be intercepted by enemy combatants. After honing this technology in life and death combat situations, Harris turned its attention and technological know-how to another arena where life and death decisions are made and secure communications are paramount.

Imagine you’re vacationing in North Carolina and you have a medical emergency. Without access to your health history, medications may have to be withheld, procedures could be delayed, and costly diagnostic tests would be necessary. Or think about the savings you could incur if, after you moved to a new city, your new internist had access to all the tests and medical data you’ve compiled for the previous two years?

A nationwide effort is underway to build systems that will allow health care providers to transfer patient information securely and rapidly across doctors’ offices, hospital networks and state lines. These systems would help improve the quality of care by sharing patient information from every place a person has been treated to anywhere they are needing treatment.

In Florida, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) hired Harris Healthcare Solutions, in 2010, to create and implement the Florida Health Information Exchange (Florida HIE). The HIE allows for the secure, electronic movement and use of health information among health care providers utilizing national standards.

Direct Secure Messaging (DSM)

For decades, patient records were faxed between providers. This was faster and cheaper than the postal service, but came with its own set of problems, including potential misrouting and other security concerns.

DSM replaces the old paper- and fax-based system with a secure email exchange. The types of providers who may join the exchange are limited and each one goes through an approval process to prove that they are a health care provider with a valid Florida license or are in a position of support to a provider. Once approval has been granted, the provider is given a DSM email address and can use this to log in to the secure website to begin sending and receiving health care data.

This system is much more secure than current methods, as the DSM user can be assured that the receiving provider has been vetted and that the email is going to a valid address.

“Enabling health care providers in Florida to exchange clinical records over a secure network is one of our primary goals,” said government analyst and AHCA’s HIE Policy Lead Carolyn Turner. “The new DSM system from Harris supports provider collaboration and aligns with our mission to improve the quality, safety and delivery of health care in Florida.”

The Florida implementation of DSM establishes the state as a Health Information Service Provider (HISP). This is a powerful tool as it allows data to be sent from a physician in one state to a provider in another state. It is useful for serving Florida’s large snowbird population that regularly move between states or during times of disaster, by allowing a patient who has to relocate access to his or her medical records.

Currently, Florida is joined with ten other states and is in the process of connecting with another 11. Once these links are all in place, Florida providers will have access to the health data of up to 60 percent of the population.

Almost 7,000 providers are now using the Florida HIE DSM system around the state with more joining every week. Consumer demand will continue to grow the network of providers that are connected.

Patient Lookup Query (PLU)

In Florida, a “network of networks” has been implemented that allows the large health systems (such as Adventist Hospital or Broward Health) or local Health Information Exchanges (like Atlantic Coast HIE in Hollywood, Fla.) to join together to form a set of connections, which allows health care data to be requested and returned.

When patients arrive at their participating doctor’s office or hospital, they are asked to give permission for their records to be looked up at other providers on the network. If approved, the physician who initiated the query can see the results of other treatments that the patient has received at any other participating facility, including detailed data such as health history, medications, tests and lab results. This not only allows the physician to have more detailed information for the use of treatment, but also reduces duplicate tests or unnecessary procedures, which is easier on the patient and reduces the cost of the visit.

“Securely sharing patient data through the Patient Look-Up service will lead to better quality healthcare for Florida’s citizens and reduce administrative costs for providers,” said Vishal Agrawal, president, Harris Healthcare Solutions. Then he added, “By improving access to important information when and where it’s needed, Harris is enabling health care providers to reduce costs and improve health care outcomes for patients by giving providers the most up-to-date and complete medical record possible at the point of care.”

There is a special exception to requiring the patients’ permission to view their records, called “break the glass,” which allows a licensed practitioner to view a patient’s medical record under emergency circumstances, such as if the patient is unconscious. This ability will save the lives of patients who have allergies, are on special medications or have other critical conditions that the provider needs to know before administering treatment.

Florida is in the process of joining the eHealthExchange, which will connect the Florida network with other networks around the country. While it will take some time for all 50 states to join this nationwide network, several of the federal agencies are already onboard. The connection of the Florida HIE to the Veterans Administration will be a huge benefit to our large veteran population and enable the sharing of records both within the VA system and with private providers.

At this time, over 20 organizations have been accepted to join the Florida HIE, covering about 50 percent of the hospital beds in the state. As a part of the efforts to improve the delivery of health care in the U.S., electronic exchange of patient information brings a level of efficiency and security not known before. This is an exciting time of growth and innovation in the world of Health Information Technology and Harris Healthcare Solutions is proud to be part of it.