Merge Healthcare, athenahealth Solve Image Sharing Problem

It's the age of the Internet and instant communication is the norm. Yet, many physicians – even though they are most likely not donning parachute pants – might still feel like they are acting out a scene from That '80s Show. Paper proliferates, as about three-quarters of medical practices still receive imaging results via fax machines. 

The problem: Even though many medical groups now have electronic health record systems in place, sharing imaging results via such technology is still a challenge. Typically, imaging centers share results with referring physicians through point-to-point interfaces. And, of course, imaging centers usually only invest resources in developing these interfaces with heavy users (i.e. orthopedic surgeons, cardiac surgeons) – leaving most of the primary care physicians out in the cold.

Fortunately, some intellectuals from Merge Healthcare, Chicago, and athenahealth, Watertown, Mass., recently came together in a scenario that could have played out as a scene from The Big Bang Theory.

"A bunch of us self-proclaimed nerds came together at an interoperability showcase and quickly figured out a way to solve this long-standing problem," says Steve Tolle, chief strategy officer at Merge.  

The solution: athenahealth is integrating Merge's iConnect® Network with its national cloud-based platform, enabling athenahealth clients to receive and view exam results, diagnostic quality images and other critical patient information within the athenaClinicals® EHR workflow. The partnership supports advanced interoperability between radiologists and providers by decreasing duplicate tests and radiation exposure, improving patient outcomes and increasing physician satisfaction while reducing the cost of care.

The unique collaboration brings benefits such as:

Improved efficiency. With the solution in place, referring physicians can place imaging orders and view results directly from their EHRs. Clinicians do not even need to switch context when viewing results but instead can read imaging studies right from patient-specific screens. 

The ability to meet meaningful use. Meaningful Use Stage 2 requires eligible professionals who order more than 100 imaging exams per year to view more than 10% of them electronically. The solution makes it possible for referring physicians to view all of their results electronically. 

Reduced duplication of tests. The solution makes it easy to share results across the care continuum. Therefore, it will most likely lead to a reduction in costly duplicate testing. 

Improved capacity to share data. Through iConnect Network, results can be shared among disparate providers, making it much easier for various caregivers to collaborate and successfully participate in health reform's shared savings programs. 

"With today's healthcare environment shifting from volume-based to value-based care models, there's an increasing need for the industry as a whole to break down the walls surrounding clinical data to enable care teams to access patient information when they need it," said Doran Robinson, vice president of healthcare transactions, athenahealth. "By integrating iConnect Network within our cloud-based EHR workflow, we'll enhance communications between physicians and radiologists and speed the routing and availability of imaging studies to caregivers. Together with Merge, we believe that information sharing is key to the advancement of care delivery. This is an exciting partnership that leverages the right technologies to make things work as they should in healthcare."