Health Information Exchange Eases Provider Communication
healtheConnect Alaska offers reliable, secure method of data exchange
For the last thirty years or so, the fax machine has been the workhorse of the American healthcare system. Primary care practices, specialists, hospitals, labs, and imaging facilities have been exchanging huge amounts of information—orders, referrals, images, and lab results, for example — by fax every day. According to a report by Vox, fax machines make up 75 percent of all medical communication. Faxing relies on staff to sort through records and add them to the appropriate patient chart. Fax numbers can change, and your records could be landing at the local Walmart instead of your provider’s office; there is no way to track or audit where they went or who saw them.
“Faxing requires a lot of personnel time touching the data and verifying it to make sure you are matching the right data to the right person to avoid errors,” says Chad Jensen, office manager for LaTouche Pediatrics, which serves about 25,000 patients at three locations in Anchorage and Eagle River. “We deal with a lot of data every day, and faxing is not the best choice for us. It’s really inefficient and not very secure.”
LaTouche Pediatrics uses a faster, more reliable and more secure way to exchange data. It’s an option available to all Alaska’s providers that is signaling the end of the high-pitched facsimile screech we all cringe at: healtheConnect Alaska, the state’s official health information exchange (HIE).
We’ve seen significant growth in the use of computers throughout the US healthcare system in the last decade, including electronic health records (EHRs), but the reality is, most Americans’ medical information is still stored partially or completely on paper. Sharing the data in these paper files between providers requires faxing, couriers, “snail mail,” or having the patient hand-carry them. Even when providers have migrated to computerized patient records which could allow them to more easily share, a lot of EHRs on the market don’t easily communicate with each other, and providers must spend time accessing multiple sources of data—both computerized and on paper — to get a full picture of a patient’s health record. If that data is not available quickly and easily, providers may unnecessarily order repeat tests or images, wasting time and money for the provider, patient, and insurance payor.
In its simplest definition, HIE refers to the ability to move clinical information among different computerized healthcare information systems. For basic exchange, providers can utilize Direct Secure Messaging (DSM) to securely transmit health data. healtheConnect Alaska makes this service available to more than 4,000 users statewide, making it easier for providers to connect with one another and avoid the fax machine.
For more advanced health information exchange, healtheConnect Alaska facilitates computer connections that allow providers to exchange healthcare information. healtheHUB is an online query portal that can be embedded directly into most EHRs, giving providers single sign-on access to query (or request) data from local and national data sources (including several large, national EHR systems, the Department of Defense, the Veterans’ Administration, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) without having to interrupt their workflow. Available data also includes the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), and lab history data.
Immediate access to historical data from previous medical visits gives a provider a more complete picture of a patient’s needs so they can manage risk. According to a study by Indiana University, benefits of HIE participation include fewer duplicated procedures, reduced imaging, lower costs, and improved patient safety.
While electronic health information exchanges cannot replace provider-patient communication, they can significantly improve the completeness and accuracy of patient records. Providers can use that extra data, along with the information in their in-house EHRs, to make better decisions and work more efficiently. A more holistic view of a patient also allows providers and care coordinators to identify gaps in care management and share comprehensive discharge plans and increases the odds the patient will receive consistent follow-up care. Event notifications and Smart Alerts also assist providers in helping coordinate care for their patients wherever they seek care.
healtheConnect Alaska’s HIE uses Master Patient Index (MPI) technology to correlate patient identity between data sources. It’s also safe and secure, verifying user identity with multi-factor authentication, so only people authorized to view patient information can access it and creates an automatic audit trail of all access by user, providing proof of system security.
Community health information exchanges, like healtheConnect Alaska, allow any provider in the community to share information about their patients. That Indiana University study also found community-based HIEs were more likely to produce benefits than exchanges run by health systems or enterprise health information exchanges. healtheConnect Alaska is a community-based, neutral, non-profit entity, created by state legislation to be the health information exchange for all of Alaska. The organization is operated by Alaskans, working to establish and grow the state’s health information exchange for Alaskans and Alaskan providers.
healtheConnect Alaska’s commitment to offering meaningful health sharing services and forging healthcare alliances throughout Alaska and the patient community is one way the HIE can eliminate the need for the fax machine and ensure quality healthcare for Alaskan patients.
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Few large foundations support “the general good” or social service projects in Alaska, so the Last Frontier has a pretty thin philanthropic layer, according to United Way of Anchorage Vice President Cassandra Stalzer. However, the oil and gas industry has a history of stepping in and filling the gaps in Alaska communities by providing money and volunteers for myriad charitable efforts in the state.