Healthcare Business News

Getting connected

By Joseph Conn
Posted: June 23, 2012 - 12:01 am ET

HealtheLink, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based regional health information organization also known as Western New York Clinical Information Exchange, is the lone organizational winner of an AMDIS award this year.

Founded in 2005 with a $3.5 million startup grant from New York State's HealNY initiative and additional funding from seven charter members, including Catholic Health System of Buffalo, Erie County Medical Center Corp. and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, the not-for-profit was incorporated in 2006 and data started flowing in 2008, says Dan Porreca, HealtheLink's executive director for the past five years.

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Today, more than 2,000 physicians in 400 group practices and 20 hospitals are participating in the exchange.

HealtheLink handled 51% of prescriptions written in western New York in 2011 and carries 80% of the radiology and 90% of the laboratory information transactions in its eight-county service area, Porreca says. About 500 physicians are using the federally developed Connect messaging protocol to send referrals and other bi-directional messages through HealtheLink from one electronic health record to another.

More than 70 million clinical records are in the HealtheLink database, kept by its IT service supplier, Optum (formerly Ingenix), a division of UnitedHealth Group that also acquired Axolotl. Roughly 2 million records are added to the database each month.

“We're blazing new trails every day,” Porreca says. “It's not without its challenges, but by and large, I'd say we're making progress. It's never as fast as I want it. … Ultimately, it is leading to better treatment for patients in our community.”

HealtheLink is the grant recipient for the Western New York Beacon Community, one of 17 Beacon Communities to share $250 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. HealtheLink will use the $16.1 million grant to find ways to improve care of diabetics by using health IT, including clinical decision-support systems, patient portals and telemonitoring to reduce health disparities for patients in rural and urban areas that are medically underserved. One goal is to achieve a 5% reduction in their emergency department visits, hospitalizations and readmissions.

Partnering in the Beacon Community initiative with HealtheLink is the P2 (Pursuing Perfection) Collaborative of Western New York, a regional care improvement organization founded in 2002. P2 also serves as the state-designated, federally funded, regional health IT extension service, and, as its name suggests, collaborates with HealtheLink to promote the purchase, adoption and meaningful use of EHR systems, particularly among smaller physician office practices and rural hospitals.

Most recently, HealtheLink announced the participation of Briody Health Care Facility in Lockport, N.Y., the first nursing home to join the exchange. The 66-year-old family-owned facility has had an EHR for three years, but HealtheLink is prepared to extend its reach to the dozens of other nursing homes in its area, including those less technologically advanced.

“It's important from the standpoint of facilitating the data transfer and patient transfer from one place of care to another,” from the hospital, to long-term care, to their own homes, Porreca says. Absent that connectivity, “there's a big risk of data being dropped along the way.”

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