Across the country, technology and clinical leaders are figuring out ways to try to promote greater interoperability of healthcare data. For seemingly everyone, it’s been an uphill climb and a steep learning curve. In the U.S., there have been pockets of success; some states are at the forefront of true data exchange, while others aren’t quite as mature.
In one of these pockets is Colorado, where the Denver-based Colorado Regional Health Information Organization (CORHIO) recently announced that its health information exchange (HIE) has grown in number of users by 111 percent, with the amount of data available in the network having grown by 118 percent in the past year. That marks the third consecutive year of triple-digit growth rates for the organization, which, as of a few months ago, encompasses 5,705 active providers/users, 47 connected hospitals, and with more than 223 million clinical messages having been sent.
To this end, also in Colorado are the Englewood-based Centura Health (with hospitals also spanning across Western Kansas) and the Aurora-based University of Colorado Health (UC Health), two organizations that will be represented at the iHT2 Health IT Summit in Denver on July 21 (the Institute for Health Technology Transformation, iHT2, is a sister organization of Healthcare Informatics under our corporate parent organization, the Vendome Group LLC). At the conference will be a panel on “Strategies to Advance Interoperability,” where Steve Hess, CIO at University of Colorado Health and Dana Moore, senior vice president/CIO and managing director, service center, at Centura Health, among others, will address the most effective models and mechanisms for exchanging data.
In Aurora, University of Colorado Health came together as a unified system about three years ago when all of its IT components collapsed into one core set which included the Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems as the organization’s core electronic health record (EHR), Hess says, who says the health system’s HIE strategy is multi-faceted. “We do offer hosting Epic for independent community practices that want to use our EHR for their own continuity of care and clinical collaboration needs,” Hess says. “We also use a built-in HIE, Epic’s Care Everywhere, to exchange records, and that works very well for Epic-to-Epic health information exchange. We have exchanged records with systems in all 50 states using that methodology,” Hess says.
UC Health is also a part of CORHIO, and that’s where a lot of statewide collaboration has occurred. “There is exchange of not only demographics, labs and discharge summaries, but also immunization and public health interfaces through the HIE,” Hess says. “We are on a journey of health information exchange, and we’re fairly early on that journey. Exchange is happening but the next generation functionalities of orders and results, exchanging CCDs (continuity of care documents), things like that, are still in the early stages,” he says. “In the meantime, we collectively look at technology not as a competitive advantage but a way to help patient care, doctors, and nurses across the state and beyond. We know our organizations will compete in terms of quality and service and other things, but we’re trying out best not to compete with technology.”
Meanwhile, at Centura Health, Moore says that the organization initially started its own private HIE in 2005 with a company that is now part of Cerner’s arsenal, but wasn’t even an established vendor at the time. Once CORHIO came around, however, Centura quickly migrated over. “We didn’t want to have a competing product and wanted to promote collaboration within the state. When CORHIO was in its infancy, Steve [Hess] and I were frequently helping them build its model,” Moore says. Then, in 2006, Centura installed the Westwood, Mass.-based MEDITECH EHR across its acute care facilities first, eventually expanding into ambulatory and home care. Now, Centura, which did receive Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Stage 7 designation, is in the process of switching over to Epic, Moore notes.
Bringing the Data to the Doctor
For both UC Health and Centura, the key to successful health IT adoption and electronic data exchange is that this time around, the HIE brings data into the physician’s workflow so he or she doesn’t have to leave that workflow to see the data. “Success is always relative, and one of the big issues with HIE in Colorado five or 10 years ago was workflow,” Moore says. “Clinicians had to go out of their workflow and try to find the patient. From a user standpoint, it wasn’t successful. The advancements we made getting HIE in their workflow have proven that we are leaps and bounds from where we were,” he says.
Hess agrees that keeping clinicians in the workflow that they use predominantly is crucial. “With CORHIO’s and Epic’s tools, the idea is to bring the data within the workflow of the doctor rather than make them go out of it. There has been a lot of interface work around that,” he says. As such, UC Health has approximately 800,000 records exchanged electronically each year, Hess says, noting that examples of the data being exchanged include complete patient records, CCD summaries, electronic lab results, and immunization and syndromic surveillance exchange.
Despite successes at both organizations, Hess and Moore understand that there is still a ways to go before true interoperability is achieved. For one, Hess says that not having universal patient identifiers will continue to be a struggle for everyone. “A big part in what all these things require is knowing which patient is which,” he says. “Having to pull our different medical record and encounter numbers and hope/make sure that we’re sending data on the right patient is a struggle that might never be solved in our lifetime.”
Hess adds that if you think about the old way of exchanging records where one facility called another and got a 36-page fax of patient data sent over, oftentimes the person trying to pull the clinically relevant data from that fax wasn’t the doctor. “As a result, sometimes that data would go ignored,” Hess says. “So now our struggle will be separating the noise from the gold. If we get 10 CCDs on 10 different encounters across four different care settings, how do we take all that data and turn it into information for the clinicians? I don’t want to have a bunch of CCDs acting like a stack of a paper on a fax machine,” he says. This, Hess says, is the next big hurdle, what he calls “HIE 3.0.” He says, “We need to figure out how to stratify the data and present it in manner that allows clinicians to do the right thing with it. If we’re not careful we can overwhelm them and they could potentially ignore the data like they did with the faxes.”
Moore adds that another pitfall is getting providers on board to the HIE. While he notes that most of the major hospitals in Colorado are on CORHIO, there are still some that are not, and that’s a problem, he says. “Also, we talk about CORHIO and that is great, but we have hospitals that border the state too; we actually have a hospital in Kansas right now,” he says. “It’s great that Epic talks across all 50 states, but getting all of these HIEs to talk to each other has been a big challenge, which is ironic since that’s what they’re designed to do.”
Moving forward, a major part of the solution is collaboration on the part of providers as well as vendors, Moore says. “A lot of the onus is on the providers, as we need to be the ones at table bringing people together and removing roadblocks. Vendors respond to the market, so if we as providers—their ultimate customers—demand collaboration and exchange, then they’ll have to respond,” he says. He adds that close-minded vendors are also part of the problem. “This vendor needs to exchange information with this one and you try to bring two competitors to the table. That’s not easy,” he says.
As such, according to Hess, a lot of vendors see their technology as a competitive advantage. Organizations that do this, rather than use their service or quality as the advantage, are slow to the collaboration table because they don’t want to level the playing field, Hess says. “But we all need to do things in similar ways, and our service and quality will be what brings doctors and patients to us. We need vendors and providers to say ‘we need to level the technology playing field.’ We really need to push that. When someone who is influential goes off that path and starts to do things differently, we get in trouble,” Hess says.
Moore adds that while nationwide interoperability efforts such as CommonWell have popped up, they might not be in it for the greater good as much as some people think. “I’m not necessarily buying that it’s for the greater good, but rather for a competitive advantage or a response to Epic’s Care Everywhere [product]. It would be great if all the vendors got together to make HIE transparent across all platforms without a third party, as that would make everyone’s life easier. But I don’t see that happening. I see them continuing to compete to try to gain market share,” Moore says.
Nonetheless, Hess warns that complete consolidation on one EHR vendor such as Epic or Cerner wouldn’t good either, as that could stifle innovation. “Some of these vendors are expensive and will never get into the small hospitals, the moms-and-pops,” he says. “We have to come up with better ways to share data. This is a journey; if you look back on HIE five years ago compared with today, people would be amazed with the progress. At the same time, we all wish it would be easier,” he says.
Back in Colorado, Moore notes that the healthcare IT leaders in the state meet quarterly, pick up the phone often, and collaborate to ensure the residents of the state get the absolute best care from a technology standpoint. “We want to make sure that the tools we provide our providers with are the absolute best,” he says. Hess, who has been in the state for six years after living in the Mid-Atlantic region, adds that the penetration of robust, mature adoption of health IT in care setting is pretty deep in Colorado. “Without that deep maturity level the collaboration conversations would be much harder,” Hess says. “The combination of the collaboration that goes on and the health IT adoption is a pretty powerful formula.”
Hess and Moore will be talking more about data exchange at the iHT2 Health IT Summit in Denver later this month. The entire conference agenda can be seen here.