We recently had the chance to talk to Brian Mack, the marketing manager for Great Lakes Health Connect. He gave us a high-level overview of health information exchanges and how much they help patients and providers.
Here’s Brian’s explanation of health information exchanges:
As a verb, health information exchange describes the process of being able to seamlessly and securely share patient’s personal health information in a way that is accessible to healthcare providers, to patients themselves, and really to any other party that has TPO needs: treatment, payment, or operations kind of need for that level of insight into a patient’s healthcare life.Brian Mack
(By the way, you can find the entire transcript of our conversation on episode 22’s show notes.)
Better Data Sharing
Health information exchanges (HIE’s) are a completely new concept to me. In talking with Brian further after the show, he let me know that HIE’s have not been able to really get going here in Louisiana due to the state being an “opt-in” state.
In Louisiana, patients have to give permission to be added to a health information exchange. In many other states, patients decide if they want to opt-out instead of having to include themselves.
Well-coordinated health systems here are able to share their information internally. There isn’t any real sharing of information between health systems, though. A trip to an urgent care facility means explaining your current condition and any relevant medical history.
Positive Growth Towards Digital
On a positive note, I’m certainly seeing more organizations embrace a digital first method for record-keeping.
We had a consultation with a specialist in Houston a few years back for a second-opinion. During the appointment, he pulled out an enormous file with all of the records that had been faxed over that contained the entire history of my daughter’s condition.
The only way for the doctor to get through all of that info was to just read every page there. There wasn’t a way to easily extract the most pertinent stats.
The doctor worked with us to come up with some treatment options that he relayed to us verbally. He then had his team relay that information back to our healthcare system via fax.
First of all, I’m impressed that the doctor waded through all of that information. Secondly, there had to be a better way.
Thankfully, our healthcare system has moved to an electronic health records solution that allows us to be able to review notes and test results any time we’d like.
The Patient as the Courier
In thinking about our interaction in Houston, the doctor and his team made the continuity of care much simpler because they took it upon themselves to notify our doctor here in New Orleans. We wrote down notes about what the doctor said, but the process didn’t entirely depend on us.
In our conversation with Brian on the podcast, he talked about how often patients were expected to relay information back to their doctors and how rarely that actually happened.
“I spent years in long-term and post-acute care working in admissions, and I can tell you that the number one most frequent call that I would get was from primary care physicians who had just had a patient discharged from a post-acute care stay. As [the patients] were on their way out the door, the discharge planner would hand them the ream of paper that covered the course of treatment that they had just received in rehabilitation with the expectation that that ream of paper was going to go from the patient to their primary care doc so that the primary care knew what had just happened.
“Unfortunately, statistically speaking, that happens less than 50% of the time, right? The primary care doc doesn’t get the paper.”
From a systems perspective, the most straightforward solution would be for the post-acute facility to relay back to the primary care doctor what had happened. That said, it’s far more reliable to let an automated system do this type of communicating. As Brian says, HIE’s can help take out the middleman.
Using Healthcare Data at a Larger Scale
One of the go-to questions that Scott (my boss and co-host) brings up is how healthcare data might be used on a larger scale. For instance, can we use all the data collected in an anonymous fashion to better understand diseases and come up with cures?
The potential to dramatically impact the way that health information can inform and enhance care delivery is happening all the time as we speak.Brian Mack
Probably one of the most fascinating pieces of information we covered in episode 22 was the way that health information exchanges are helping match up information like nutrition data to health records. Brian mentioned that healthcare information is moving groups like hospitals and practices, but it’s also moving between food pantries, transportation providers, and housing organizations.
One of my passions in healthcare and in helping people live better lives is understanding what we can do to become more proactive with our health. Right now, we’re pretty much just following a lot of best practices and opinions when it comes to really improving nutrition and health. (I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea.) I’d love to see these ideas be more researched and become more credible.
Want to Listen?
You can check out the podcast episode below or subscribe on your favorite podcast service.
Also, if you’re on Twitter, be sure to Brian a follow at @bfmack.