Major Seattle hospitals have EMRs, lack interoperability

Seattle is a high-tech city with several world-renowned healthcare institutions. Swedish Medical Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center and the University of Washington Medical Center are among those that have converted from paper records to EMRs. All three have their flagship hospitals within a few blocks of each other on top of the same hill overlooking Puget Sound. But despite collectively spending hundreds of millions of dollars on IT in the last few years, none of the three health systems can share data with their neighbors.

The reasons are well-worn: proprietary vendor systems that don't talk to each other; concerns about privacy; and, of course, user resistance, particularly from physicians, reports Kaiser Health News. There seems to be quite a bit of buck-passing as well, both literally and figuratively. Getting over these hurdles "will take federal will and money," says Dr. Jim Bender, medical director for health information at Virginia Mason. Sure, they're waiting on the federal stimulus, but is he really saying there's no local will to create interoperability? Perhaps the Seattle institutions should look a little north, to Whatcom County, WA, where there is an established health information exchange.

Regardless, the Seattle hospitals are preparing for the cash infusion from D.C., and Swedish in particular is working with its vendor to allow its EMR to communicate with rival hospitals. Everyone is being deliberate, though. "If you don't do it right, physician orders can show up in the wrong place, be confusing or come at the wrong time," says Swedish's CIS physician lead, Dr. Tom Wood.

For more about the data battle in Seattle:
- read this Kaiser Health News piece, via the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)