Sunday, May 17, 2009

Can you exchange patient healthcare records

While many of us are exposed to the ARRA or stimulus, many healthcare groups are still wondering how this is all going to play out once all the requirements are defined. In a series of blogs I will be posting, I am going to discuss three different subjects with several scenarios of different practice types with different infrastructure and package.

The three subjects I am going to cover will be:

Meaningful use of a "certified EHR"
Certified Package

I will start by discussing the first one, and it is my favorite one. In the last few months, I have been very fortunate to participate with some very smart people. We worked together as part of the Technical & development Committee for NCHICA to create a draft that identifies our recommendations for a state wide/Community base Health Information Exchange Network.

Basically our goal was to identify the architecture of a NC HIE that would be able to participate a the national level and facilitate the exchange of health records amongst stakeholders such as (ER, Hospital providers, Physicians, State entities, SSA, and others..).

During that process I have learned tremendously from the team, and I could not help but try to envision how many of the providers I know would use and benefit from such a system.
So to help explain how a State HIE and its uses would look in the future, I have three practice scenarios to explain the implementation:

Practice 1:Dr. Smith with Practice SoloProv is a small provider practice with a single physician who is using a Basic EMR. This EMR called SoloEMR is a small vendor that is not planning on getting certified, and will not be enabling any interoperability in their software.

Practice 2:Dr. Jones with BusySpecPractice is a mid size busy specialist practice that feels that an EMR might slow them down, and elected to stick to paper charts but would like to participate at a state level HIE.

Practice 3: Dr. Ashton with Busy multiSpec which is a mid size busy multi specialty practice that has implemented recently a well known EMR that does support interoperability and also is planning on using the state HIE.

As for many of the patients of Practice 1 are becoming more aware of the advantages of having access to their PHR (Personal Health Records) they started requesting from Dr. Smith that they would really like to see their records on state HIE as well as receive updates under their (Google Health or Health Vault). This puts a lot of pressure on Dr. Smith as he realizes that he will need to do something before patients start looking at other providers that may have that edge or those capabilities. So, he approach the software vendor but with no luck. Then he decided to take a another approach. He came up with a plan to basically charge a patient a small fee to cover the cost of a staff member entering that data directly into the State HIE web portal. Not only the basic medication list, allergy and vitals, but also scanning sections of the paper chart to be uploaded. While the cost per patient becomes break even with what he is charging, he realizes that this is his only option unless he goes for an EMR package that has that functionality of Interoperability. This model allowed him to still maintain business as usual, but also allowed him to print/receive updates on his patients anytime their records are updated by another health provider. Unfortunately, the down side to this model is that the provider will be missing out on the stimulus money, but also on the advantages that an EHR offers. Anything from Drug interactions, to E&M coding, Rx History, Paperless office and much more.

Practice B, is a busy specialist practice. No time to waste typing on a tablet PC or laptop. They do everything on paper, and very comfortable with that method, and not looking into any change anytime soon. However, they realize that they would like to move the practice toward a EMR model and the next years, and would like to minimize the upfront costs as well as lowering the risk and change. With this group, it was a very simple yet powerful approach. They decided on using an EMR lite package that not only allowed them to access/request patient records from the Community/State HIE, but also perform electronic prescriptions as well as enter the basic clinical information electronically (Vitals, allergy, diagnosis, procedures, basic notes..) which was available for the Community/State HIE, and the rest of the medical record was still transcribed. This group was able to maintain the efficiency, be more informed before making decisions, and still provide the same amount of attention the patient deserves during the visit.
Now in my opinion this model above is a lot better than the first one. You have access to more information of the patient conditions (problem list, medication, allergies, vital and such), also the provide has visibility of the patient "CCD" or summary record provided by the HIE, but still does not provide a way for the practice to "measure quality or improvements". This is the part where the NQF will select our of their existing criteria which one will be utilized and implemented as part of "meaningful use".

With the last practice 3, recently implemented an EHR system across multiple departments. Each has all their patient records stored electronically. From the radiology department to the pediatrics. If you are a patient there, there one comprehensive electronic health record that contains all your data gathered from across the departments. So, you will have all your imaging stored as a standard DICOM, then you have all your lab data in HL7, and your overall summary of record as a CCD. Anytime any outside entity needs your record, the Community/State HIE sends a request and then receives a response with all your medical data from this group. The nice thing about this model, is that the providers did not have to do anything different to enable the interoperability here. Except of course paying for it (some vendors are planning on charging you for that functionality separate!!!!). In addition, this group will have as part of their participation in the Community / State HIE, any new patient or existing patient's PHR or LHR can be downloaded to a special tab in the EHR (Outside Records) to allow care providers to view patient's medical records from previous or other entities. Unfortunately this model is most likely the most costly for a practice, although it has tremendous advantages and will truly be the best case that the ONC and our administration would like to see, it is still the most challanging.

I am a firm believer that technology is going to help improve our healthcare system. The cost of it would be the variant here, but nevertheless, it is something that is needed. My mission while working with providers is to show the value technology can bring. Whether it is using EHR, or efaxing, virtualization or just simply securing their network to better protect patient information, it is important to show the many positive things that technology can bring to the table, it is just a matter of putting the RIGHT one to resolve the RIGHT problem. It does not always have to cost an arm and a leg either. I have seen enough successful open source products out there, that we don't have to continue to use cost as an excuse.

My favorite open source products:
Open Vista (VA EMR)
CONNECT (NHIN that allows for Health Information Exchange)
Mirth (Interface Engine for Labs, Demograhpics, DICOM CCD and many more.)
ClearCanves (My favorite .net PACS solution, and it is open source and as good as the 100k solution).

I will cover more of those open source solutions in another blog.


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