The Web-based HIE is being delivered by eHealthConnecticut and the state's Department of Social Services through a grant of more than $1 million from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
Connecticut's first health information exchange (HIE) moved recently from inception into piloting when a network of hospitals and clinics began sharing patient data as part of a project that will connect several federally qualified health centers to the exchange.
Among those participating in the pilot project is Staywell Health Care of Waterbury, Conn., one of two qualified health centers in the state, participating in part because the clinic is one of the few to have adopted electronic health records (EHR). The clinic moved to an EHR in July 2009.
eHealthConnecticut's current mission is to implement and sustain a statewide HIE to improve healthcare quality, safety and efficiency for Connecticut's residents.
“This program will make models of the clinics involved in the program. We're ready to join in and be a model for health information exchanges; we're ready to show how this can be done,” says Lule Tracey, chief financial officer of Staywell Health Care.
The health information exchange is Web based and being delivered by eHealthConnecticut and the state's Department of Social Services through a grant of more than $1 million from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. The exchange will link information in clinics and hospitals with electronic systems currently in place, at which point patient data will be entered and accessible to the healthcare community.
Staywell's Tracey says the obvious push behind the program is to move the state, and eventually the entire healthcare system, to an electronic format. Staywell Health Care, which hosts 80,000 patient visits per year, is in the process of ridding its office of all paper records, saving the clinic about 35 percent of the annual chart and office supplies budget.
Additional benefits to the clinic as a result of the EHR include increased quality of care and the ability to proactively track patient information, analyze trends and better manage charts and outcomes specifically related to diagnosis and treatment. Having the HIE in place will create more efficiency for providers in the state and make for a simplified approach to practicing medicine, says Tracey.
“The HIE is an innovative concept, but this is the way business is now conducted; healthcare should be no different,” Tracey says. “We live in an electronic, instant-access society, and people have come to expect us to be able to provide their health information to doctors or hospitals wherever they are.
“A person's health record can save their lives so it's wonderful to see we're moving beyond the traditional delivery system and into an instant-access world.”
The eHealthConnecticut pilot program will collect and exchange patient information, including patient allergies, medications, laboratory results and physician notes.
The decision to participate in the HIE is voluntary, but if it increases clinical efficiency, offers a quicker turnaround and better measures and tracks outcomes, it could be expanded from the pilot stage.
However, even if eHealthConnecticut's federally funded pilot program proves unsuccessful, Staywell Health Care will be in compliance with federal meaningful-use guidelines, Tracey says.
Moving to an EHR was in part prompted by the government's incentive — Staywell Health Care uses the Sage Intergy EHR — but Tracey says that's only a small part of the decision to move forward. “EHR is really about improved quality, and not about saving or earning money; it's about improving patient care,” she says. “With paper, the quality just isn't there, and now we can monitor the practice and the health progress of patients.”
The backbone of the HIE is an electronic health records and practice management system. The software gives doctors throughout the system a standard for accessing and sharing patient information. While the concept of electronic records management seems new, companies, such as Sage, have been delivering these systems for more than a decade.
“The challenge with adopting electronic health records is ensuring that the practice and the patients get benefits quickly, which means ensuring a fast and flawless set up and training,” says Betty Otter-Nickerson, president of Sage Healthcare Division. “We're focused on helping doctors get those results and ensuring they have a great experience from selection of the system right through to improved patient care.”
Incorporated in 2006, eHealthConnecticut is a not-for-profit program that developed oversight and privacy standards prior to launching the HIE pilot program. The organization's current mission is to implement and sustain a statewide HIE to improve healthcare quality, safety and efficiency for Connecticut's residents. The program will work to match the appropriate practice management software with physician practices, especially those running one- or two-person shops, and help them negotiate contracts.
So far, pilot participants include Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Community Health Center, HealthWise Medical Associates, Staywell Health Care, Naugatuck Valley OB/GYN and Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.
“This is innovative, but it's time, and we're ready to show the state and the rest of the healthcare industry that doctors, practices and patients are ready for HIEs, ready for the next step in improving care and the quality of lives,” Tracey says. “With the HIE and the EHR, now is the time for change; it's time to move forward in healthcare.”
Tony Ryzinski is senior vice president of marketing for Sage Healthcare Division. For more information on Sage solutions: