Charleston area hospitals are transforming how care is delivered in their emergency rooms, leading the nation through a unique collaboration that saves time and money. Emergency room physicians need quick access to patient information to decide on the best treatment.

In the past this may have required numerous inquiries to other area emergency rooms, with care givers searching for information that patients cannot remember, don’t know, or are too sick to provide.

The time taken to locate this information would be better spent treating patients; thus, area hospitals sought a better way to share information and improve patient care.

Enter the Carolina eHealth Alliance (CeHA), which has now connected the 11 emergency departments of all Charleston-area civilian hospitals through a health information exchange that links electronic medical records. This summer, the Charleston Naval Health Clinic also will share data.

Through the confidential exchange, our care providers can quickly locate key electronic portions of patient medical records such as discharge summaries, lab reports, radiology results and medications and drug allergies. One of only a few such exchanges operating in the United States, CeHA is serving as a model for other cities in South Carolina and beyond.

In the first six months of a CeHA impact study, thousands of patient visits were tracked. Initial results suggest that in one facility alone, $1 million of unneeded duplicate tests, X-rays and consultations can be avoided in a year.

We expect to find parallel savings at other hospitals. Equally important, we believe that quality of care is improved, and patients are exposed to fewer risks, such as excess X-ray exposure.

Not surprisingly, the automated record linkage also saves time — on average, an estimated two hours per patient in the initial study.

The next step in the program is to expand CeHA to more than 875 primary care physicians across the Lowcountry by the end of 2012. By linking to the records at doctors’ offices, we can enhance the information available to the emergency room physician, and also help the patients’ personal physicians know what follow-up is required.

This level of connectivity wouldn’t be possible without a spirit of collaboration amongst the CeHA partners and the financial support of The Duke Endowment.

RAY GREENBERG, M.D., Ph.D CeHA Chairman

President Medical University of South Carolina

Jonathan Lucas Street Charleston

David Dunlap President and CEO

Roper St. Francis Healthcare Calhoun Street

Charleston TODD GALLATI President and CEO

Trident Health Medical Plaza Drive

North Charleston JASON ALEXANDER

CEO East Cooper Medical Center

Hospital Drive Mount Pleasant