Integrating Emergency Medical Services into Health Information Exchanges

Getting a complete and accurate picture of a patient’s medical history is a challenge under normal circumstances, but it is even more difficult – and even more important – in an emergency. Emergency medical services (EMS) practitioners are often the first contact people have with health care, and frequently lack critical information about the patient. Having access to relevant health data (e.g., past medical problems, medications, allergies, and end-of-life decisions) is critical to providing quality care.

Health Information Exchange (HIE) can help EMS providers share relevant patient data with receiving facilities and other providers, link records for research and quality improvement, be used to notify other providers that an emergency occurred, and ensure that information about the EMS encounter is part of a patient’s longitudinal electronic health record.

In February of 2014, ASPR’s Emergency Care Coordination Center (ECCC) in conjunction with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of EMS convened a stakeholder meeting to discuss EMS and its connection to health information exchange (HIE). The session was designed to connect the emergency care, EMS, and HIT communities so they might share and discuss pilot projects, concepts, and initiatives related to HIE.

In May of 2014, a joint proposal by ASPR and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to the HHS IdeaLab’s HHS Ventures program was selected from among numerous applicants. The proposal led to the development of a Patient Unified Lookup System for Emergencies (PULSE ​Exit Icon), a disaster response medical history portal. This tool allows medical providers – including EMS practitioners – to access patient information in the event of a disaster or large scale emergency.

In 2016, ONC announced two new cooperative agreement programs-- High Impact Pilots (HIP) and Standards Exploration Awards (SEA). These programs are designed to continue ONC’s investment toward implementing the Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap, and fits within the ONC Tech Lab’s focus on pilots for standards and technology. 

ONC recently developed documents for HIE organizations and EMS officials to share with their state and community partners to promote a better understanding of the importance of health information exchange and emergency medical services.