New health data-sharing network to be tested

A three-year effort to break down the walls that hinder Capital Region medical practitioners’ abilit

A three-year effort to break down the walls that hinder Capital Region medical practitioners’ ability to review patient information will soon enter the testing phases.

The Health Information Exchange of New York later this month will start sending test data across its network — a prerequisite to the regionwide sharing of prescription, laboratory and other electronic information over a secure Web-based platform.

“If we can keep the momentum going, we should be able to start sharing information by summer,” said Ellis Hospital Chief Information Officer William Young, He is also HIXNY’s vice chairman.

By August, HIXNY expects at least four of its 21 members to launch a new era of medical information exchange in the region.

By enhancing medical facilities’ interoperability, health care officials hope they can supply doctors with vital data immediately. That data should reduce the likelihood of errors due to medical decisions made with incomplete information. To obtain patient data, doctors must currently call neighboring hospitals and have documents faxed to them.

“If we put better information in physicians’ hands quickly, they’re going to be able to make better decisions,” said Dominick Bizzarro, who last month became the chief executive at HIXNY, a regional health information organization, or RHIO. He previously held executive positions at Enfrastructure Technologies in Clifton Park and PharMerica in Tampa, Fla.

Preparation work for the clinical information exchange started in 2005, when chief information officers at six area hospitals, practices and health plans formed a task force charged with coordinating the interoperability effort. A year later, the state Department of Health awarded HIXNY a $1.7 million grant to create the clinical information data exchange.

The early adapters of the HIXNY system will be Northeast Health and Seton Health in Troy plus Prime Care Physicians in Albany and Community Care Physicians in Latham. They will be followed by Ellis Hospital and St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady, Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs and St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, Bizzarro said.

“We’re pretty ready to test it. It’s not ready for prime time,” said Dr. John Collins, the chief medical officer of Northeast, the health care facility network that includes Albany Memorial Hospital, Samaritan Hospital in Troy and Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady. He also sits on HIXNY’s board of directors.

HIXNY’s summer pilot will mark the region’s latest advancement in the electronic medical record field, which aims to replace paper medical documents with digitalized information. It will also bring the region closer to fulfilling President Bush’s goal — detailed in 2004 — of creating a coast-to-coast infrastructure that would allow doctors to electronically share medical information about patients.

A nationwide EMR systems could result in $77.8 billion in savings annually, according to the Center for Information Technology Leadership, a Boston information technology research organization. HIXNY is already in talks to share its electronic health information with the Adirondack Regional Community Health Information Exchange, a RHIO based in Glens Falls.

“Once we’re good at sharing information locally or regionally then it would be good to share it throughout upstate,” said Collins.

In the past four years, local health care officials have revved up their EMR adoption efforts. The EMR implantation initiatives have traditionally started in hospital emergency rooms and spread from there. But to date most of the EMR initiatives have occurred within enclosed health care networks, which restrict access from outside physicians.

For example, Albany Memorial in 2005 launched a computerized order entry network, which enables physicians to electronically prescribe prescriptions and laboratory tests. Northeast last November launched a picture archiving communications, which stores, retrieves, distributes and presents digital MRI, mammography and other medical images. Northeast is also expanding its EMR capabilities to its nine outpatient doctors’ offices.

“One way to think of it is building from the grassroots up,” said Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Nash, who sits on HIXNY’s board.

CDPHP has encouraged many of its 9,000 member providers to adopt EMR systems. Bruce said that push is crucial because a significant amount of patient information gets recorded in doctors’ offices.

Over the last three years, CDPHP has invested $4.5 million in EMR adoption, interoperability and education initiatives. At its third annual health information technology e-Forum in Colonie on Saturday, CDPHP pledged to invest another $1 million for EMR adoption, primarily among small practices with fewer than five doctors.

While 57 percent of CDPHP’s medium and large member practices with over five doctors have adopted EMR systems, only 17 percent of its small practices have that technology, Nash said.

One of the biggest changes RHIOs such as ARCHIE and HIXNY face is in developing procedures for information sharing that do not compromise patient confidentiality. Patients must consent to allowing a doctor to obtain their medical records from outside medical organizations, though in extreme emergencies that information can be acquired without such authorization.

The Health Information Security and Privacy Collaboration recently made recommendations on information sharing procedure standards.

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