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Get ready for Cal Index! It’s more revolutionary than it sounds.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California announced last week that they are launching Cal Index, a digital health information system that shares patients’ health data among all of the two plans’ contracted providers. The two insurers have set up the entity as a nonprofit organization, with $80 million in initial funding, to operate the new information technology hub. While Cal Index may not be the flashiest name, the new organization could provide very important benefits to millions of Californians (maybe even you) by making care safer and more efficient.

The shared online health records would allow health care providers to quickly access valuable, even critical information about patients. This capability could increase efficiency by eliminating redundant patient interviews and tests. It could also decrease medical errors by giving providers access to important patient information, which could alert them to potentially harmful treatment interactions.

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Aside from the information-sharing functions, the critical element of the new venture is the sheer number of patients included in the database. Together, the two insurers have 9 million enrollees. However, this kind of information-sharing tool would be even more effective if more insurers participated, bringing its benefits to more individuals and providers. For example, not to single out Kaiser Permanente, but the HMO already has its own well-established online health records system. Yet, its system only shares data with the providers and members in its closed network. Linking a greater number of insurers’ data to Cal Index would likely provide the greatest system-wide benefit for patients, providers, and insurers. One scenario in which this might come in handy would be when you change your coverage from one insurer to another. In this case, your new primary care provider would be able to access your information if both insurers were participating in Cal Index.

A major concern with an online information-sharing tool of this kind is patient privacy. And this concern is real. Health information can be very sensitive, and mistakes and breaches have occurred since providers and insurers have moved to electronic health records. With these issues in mind, Cal Index only allows providers to access the information of their patients, not all patients in the system. Also, any patient can simply ask to have their information removed from the system, and Cal Index must comply with all federal and state patient privacy laws. These are important features to protect people’s information.

On the whole, the cooperation between Anthem and Blue Shield that created Cal Index is a welcome sign of progress toward a more cost-efficient and higher quality health system across California, and maybe across the U.S. We hope that Cal Index succeeds in reaching these goals, and that it brings new insurers into the partnership to bring its potential benefits to millions more patients.

Click here for the LA Times article about Cal Index.

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