The promoters of the HealthLink electronic network are counting on a snowball effect to gain customers, get them to recruit other customers and identify more uses for the data hub.
Once participants start tapping into the features of the community health information network, it makes sense for them to prod others into joining so they can get more use out of the service, said David Jacobs, director of HealthLink.
Primary-care physicians know what specialists they work with, and the efficiency of the network depends on getting the specialists linked up, Jacobs said. Specialists in turn refer cases to ancillary facilities and get the results and progress reports.
For example, the eight-office Nevada division of NovaCare, a King of Prussia, Pa.-based rehabilitation provider, is trying to lure referring orthopedic surgeons, Jacobs said.
Physicians connected to HealthLink can call up an electronic "prescription pad" that has a list of NovaCare services from which to choose, said Dennis Ryan, director of operations for the firm's Las Vegas territory.
The NovaCare display, Ryan said, tells doctors other pertinent facts: the location nearest a patient being referred, whether the location has extended hours and whether Spanish is spoken there.
The electronic copy, with additional medical notes and patient information as needed, goes to NovaCare. Like other ancillary facilities and labs, NovaCare can then call patients to schedule appointments rather than having them walk in, perhaps without the prescription in hand, Jacobs said. Another network link can forward the pre-certification.
In September, a second utilization review and workers' compensation administrator, called CoreSource, joined MCC on-line, Jacobs said. Also last month, the Nevada region of EBP Health Plans, a third-party administrator based in Minneapolis, became HealthLink's first participant to provide insurance eligibility information for its clients, which include the Las Vegas Police Protective Association and the Westward Ho Hotel and Casino. Those are among more than a dozen employers on HealthLink so far.
One large self-insured group, the Clark County teachers union, began using the network last month to provide eligibility information on its 17,000 members.
Because major employers and medical companies in Nevada often have parent organizations out of state, HealthLink has seen an opportunity to extend links so local and main offices can communicate, said G.W. Kring, MCC executive vice president.
The network sends encrypted information over regular telephone lines from point to point as programmed by HealthLink, said Jacobs, who started with "off-the-shelf" software, instituted password protection and customized it to deliver the current roster of features (See chart). Customers need only a personal computer and a fast modem.
The list of features is growing in ways not originally anticipated. For example, physician credentialing services weren't a high priority until HealthLink made the rounds of physician-office circles.
When Jacobs told the Las Vegas chapter of the Medical Group Management Association that HealthLink was considering an electronic credentialing conduit suitable for most managed-care companies, he got a standing ovation, Kring said.
One of those attendees, Ricki Greenspon, office manager for a two-physician practice, said such a service would be valuable immediately.
"I've got five contracts sitting on my desk right now (from managed-care companies) to be on their preferred-provider list," she said recently. "Every hospital, every insurance plan has maybe 10 to 12 different contracts, and you have to be credentialed with all those companies individually."
Nevada's HealthLink's features and services
Subscribers to the electronic data-transfer network can:
Request a referral authorization for a diagnostic test or a specialist
Determine eligibility for treatment under insurance coverage (one payer on-line so far)
Order diagnostic and lab tests and receive results
Schedule a surgery or test
Search up-to-date listings of providers in a managed-care plan
Search up-to-date workers' compensation managed-care lists by provider and employer group
Look up benefit plan information by employer group