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In Holston Medical Group’s March to Value, an HIE Proves Mission Critical

July 18, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
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One Southeast medical group is using its HIE to determine patients’ risk levels and ultimately keep them out of the hospital

Health information exchanges (HIEs) have been brought into the healthcare ecosystem to connect providers, improve workflow and coordinate care with others, in real-time. But one of the lesser-discussed benefits of HIEs is how they are serving as a critical component in the industry’s value-based care shift.

It’s this reason, the desire to become more value-based care focused, why Holston Medical Group (HMG)—a multispecialty practice made up of 165 practitioners that serve more than 200,000 patients at 41 sites in Northeast Tennessee and Southeast Virginia—opted to leverage a community record from the Virginia-headquartered OnePartner for the medical neighborhood in 2012.

According to Wesley Combs, who is the CIO at Holston Medical Group, and also the president of the OnePartner HIE, recalls that it was around the time that HMG joined the HIE, in 2012, when the organization’s senior leaders began to realize that since the government was starting to expect providers to think more like insurance companies and manage the risk of patients, it was time for HMG to strategize how they would do just that.

“We needed to be informed and we needed to know more about our patients. And that’s obviously for good care, so we could treat them [well], but we also needed to know which patients required more attention and carried more risk. So it was through that lens in which we [thought about the HIE],” says Combs. “There was a managed care thought going on inside the practice, and I think that’s getting more common nowadays, as [practices] are thinking more like insurance companies now. Data helps you make good decisions.”

Wesley Combs

As such, HMG leaders came to the realization that they needed an HIE to have full access to all data on their patients. “HIE is sometimes a verb, and sometimes a noun, but [we] look at it as both. Sure, you are exchanging data, but you are also using this [technology] to access all of the data, and it helps you make decisions on patients. We looked ahead of the value-based medicine curve and realized we had to manage risk, so it became necessary,” Combs says.

One of the reasons why HMG selected the OnePartner HIE, notes Combs, is that unlike some statewide-run health information exchanges, “it’s not something that checks off meaningful use boxes for physicians, nor is it something that gives them credit for reporting in a certain [quality] program.” Rather, he attests, an HIE should be implemented so that it provides the most value possible to both patients and the physicians. “Having an aggregated data model at the point of care for doctors to help them make decisions is what patients expect. They expect that if there’s a computer in the room, the doctor knows everything about me no matter where I went. And that’s the standard now,” he says.

How HMG is Using the HIE

As it stands today, HMG has three different EHRs (electronic health records) across its system and the reason that can exist is because the HIE does the clinical integration, says Combs. Everyone on those disparate EHRs has access to all the HMG data through the HIE, at the point of care, as the physicians “literally see something blink on the screen,” explains Combs. The HIE is also connected to the hospitals in the region, meaning other large practices are using it and it’s not unique to HMG, he adds.

As such, Combs says that HMG physicians are using OnePartner daily and that the organization totals about 50,000 encounters with it per month. And they have built processes around the community data so that when a patient gets admitted to an area hospital, instant notifications are generated to the EHR from the HIE, he explains. Notifications are also sent out when patients are discharged from a hospital, at which point a case manager will work to schedule patients for a follow-up visit within 48 hours, if need be. The goal, says Combs, is to do a “transition of care” on 100 percent of HMG’s patient population.

Incredibly, he explains, the process that the HIE has replaced was employing seven staff members that worked from midnight to 8 a.m., looking through hospital census information manually, using paper and pencil, writing notes, and then faxing everything over when the day started. “This is exactly the process that was replaced,” Combs says. “And I would wonder, why would we have these seven people doing this? We wanted them doing something else, since the computer could do it so easily. We will look back one day and wonder why we didn’t do this 20 years earlier.”

Another example of how the HIE is leveraged involves what HMG refers to as “Level 3 patients,” those who have six or more chronic conditions. “Their bodies are fighting them all the time, they are on all kinds of medications and they’re really struggling. These patients do not need to be taken care of in the hospital, which happens to be the most expensive place to take care of them,” Combs says. Rather, they can be taken care of in a cheaper, more effective way—in an outpatient setting or in their home, where they eat and sleep better, and are generally more comfortable.  

The OnePartner HIE identifies these patients for HMG, as it takes all the data on patients, even the data that the health system doesn’t have—such as if a patient saw a specialist across town—"and it tells us about these patients, such as if we haven’t seen them in 90 days, and if we need to get them in and treat them, as well as make sure they’re on their medications—which [ultimately] will keep them out of the hospital,” Combs says.

What’s more, the HIE is identifying patients who are “habitual utilizers of services,” such as one patient who Combs recalls was admitted 28 times in the last 12 months. “All of a sudden, the whole [care] team is now engaged to call patients and make sure they have their medications and home care. We are throwing all the resources we can to keep them out of the hospital setting. The HIE is doing this for us; it fills in gaps, and identifies a lot of people that need identifying,” he says.

“There is No Easy Button in Healthcare”

In the end, while Combs understands that many HIEs across the country are struggling, he believes that hard work and determination could help overcome the challenges. “There is no easy button in healthcare. You only get out of the HIE what you are willing to put into it. If you are willing to integrate and get your data in there, and get the rest of your community participating, that is step one,” he says.  

But even more than that, he continues, physicians must also be willing to change their processes to take advantage of that data. “If you understand value-based medicine and the economics of healthcare, regarding insurance, risk identification and stratification, it doesn’t take any time for an HIE to give a return on investment in value-based contracting—if you are starting to go at risk.”

To this point, Combs notes that with an estimated twice as many patients coming into the system over the next 10 years—but without twice the number of doctors or twice the amount of money that Medicare can spend—there is a great need to identify the risk of each patient and keep the high-risk ones out of the hospital.

“Our HIE tells us the risk level of the patient and that goes straight to our value-based contracts. We have made more money since we started using the HIE then it ever would cost us in our contracts,” he attests. “So if you’re not figuring out how to execute on the value side and get payouts for either doing reporting or going at risk, then you will be declining in your fee schedule. We look at healthcare in general, and we see that there isn’t a choice—we have to go to value, and HIEs are [helping] with that.”


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Two N.Y. Regional HIEs Partner to Enhance Technology, Services

October 1, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Two New York regional health information exchanges, HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections, have formed a strategic partnership aimed at accelerating HIE use by providers. The HIE leader contend that the partnership will provide more value to providers by offering innovative technology, new capabilities, and richer data for participants in the HIE.

The HIEs, which are two of the state’s eight qualified entities (QE) connected by the Statewide Health Information Network for New York (SHIN-NY), together cover 43 percent of New York State. Binghamton-based HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections, based in Syracuse, leaders said the partnership will connect providers across much of New York State, from the northern border of New York City, through the Hudson Valley, and throughout the Southern Tier and Central New York to the Canadian border. The partnership is the result of months of collaboration following HealthlinkNY’s decision to seek a strategic partner in 2017.

Staci Romeo, HealthlinkNY’s executive director, said she chose HealtheConnections because their technological platform is “exceptional,” and HealtheConnections’ “quality of services and customer engagement processes completely align with HealthlinkNY’s mission and values.”

“HealtheConnections has proven technology and associated services that create value for providers. We’re thinking progressively and looking to offer resources such as tools to measure quality and support value-based care systems,” Romeo said in a statement. “We want a partner with innovative services and an unwavering commitment to providing value to providers by enabling them to improve care and efficiency, as well as save time and money.”

The announcement came just a few days after HealthlinkNY publicly opposed another regional HIE’s plans to expand its services into HealthlinkNY’s market. In a press release issued early last week, Romeo responded to plans by Hixny, an HIE based in Albany that historically covered north and west of the Capital District, to expand into nine counties in HealthlinkNY’s territory and called Hixny’s move “a case of sour grapes after being passed over during our search for a strategic partner.”

Rob Hack, president and CEO of HealtheConnections, said the strategic partnership was inspired, in part, by a statewide effort to optimize costs and efficiencies to increase use and adoption of regional HIEs and the network that connects them all—the SHIN-NY. “HealtheConnections and HealthlinkNY have a shared vision of using health data to create healthier communities, improve healthcare delivery, and deliver value to providers. This type of progress can only be achieved through enhanced collaboration and looking beyond the status quo.,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here—accelerate the great work that has already begun. The HIE works to its fullest potential when all parties, providers and HIEs alike, work together toward the common goal.”

Romeo said that HealthlinkNY will begin to migrate its current HIE interface to HealtheConnections’ platform in early 2019. With the new platform, users will be able to further filter data, set up advanced alerts and results routing, and have access to more databases, including the New York State Immunization Information System (NYSIS), Veteran’s Administration (VA), and Department of Defense (DOD), she said. Other enhancements include fully integrated analytics and reporting value-based payment support and advisory services; quality measurements; and clinical dashboards that provide usable data to identify gaps in care.

“The user experience is key,” Romeo said of the technology and services. “Both HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections are coming from a place where we put providers first, and that includes offering providers a nimble and intuitive platform and services that support the way they deliver care and help their organizations save time and money.”

Romeo pointed out an additional benefit to providers: Both HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections have built “hub” connections to widely-used electronic health records (EHR) systems. HealthlinkNY has 21 hubs and HealtheConnections has 13 hubs.  Combined, providers will have access to 50 different hub and custom connection options, she said.

Hack called the partnership “a game-changer” because together the two entities will be able to accelerate new participant growth, data contributions, development of new analytics, and community health improvement results. “The idea,” said Hack, “is to transform and improve patient care, improve the health of our population, and lower health care costs.”

Together, HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections will operate a service area that covers 24 counties, more than one-third of the 62 counties in New York State, and connect all of the region’s 66 hospitals, which comprise 27 percent of all hospitals in New York State.

According to HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections leaders, both HIEs administer collaborative population health improvement initiatives in their regions, and they are the only HIEs in New York State that administer Population Health Improvement Program (PHIP) grants.

Currently, HealthlinkNY’s HIE stretches across 13 counties, and its population health arm manages the Southern Tier Regional Addiction Resource Center. The HealthlinkNY Community Network works with partners on many additional population health efforts in 14 counties in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and Southern Tier of New York. HealtheConnections has a strong regional presence in 11 counties in the Central and Northern New York regions, where 80 percent of physicians actively use its HIE, and 75 percent of providers contribute data.

 

 

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One New York Regional HIE Opposes Expansion of Another, Highlighting Issues with Competition Among HIEs

September 24, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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In a 2015 report, 84 percent of HIE leaders cited competition among HIEs as a barrier to development
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A New York regional health information exchange (HIE), HealthlinkNY, based in Binghamton, has publicly come out against another regional HIE’s plans to expand its services into HealthlinkNY’s market, saying it creates “confusion and uncertainty” in the marketplace.

Last week, Hixny, an HIE based in Albany that historically covered north and west of the Capital District, announced that it had added nine counties to its territory, specifically Chenango, Broome, Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Westchester and Rockland counties in southern New York. These nine counties are already covered by HealthlinkNY’s network, which covers a 13-county service area spanning the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and the Southern Tier of New York (the Southern Tier encompasses counties of New York west of the Catskill Mountains along the northern border of Pennsylvania).

With the expansion, Hixny now serves 28 counties and the HIE already has updated its website to state that it serves communities from Westchester to the Canadian border and Binghamton to Vermont. Hixny CEO Mark McKinney claims that this area, the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier region, has "historically lagged in connecting providers to one another and collecting patient consent.”

Staci Romeo, executive director of HealthlinkNY, notes that all 35 hospitals in the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions are HealthlinkNY participants. In those nine counties, Hixny has 21 sites and no hospitals, according to Romeo.

Both HIEs are two among the state’s eight qualified entities (QE) connected by the Statewide Health Information Network for New York (SHIN-NY) – a “network of networks” that allows the electronic exchange of clinical information and connects healthcare statewide – overseen by the New York State Department of Health and managed by the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC). According to the NYeC website, participating healthcare organizations can connect with the QE that best aligns with their business, operational, and service delivery needs. 

HealthlinkNY issued a strongly worded press release late last week in response to Hixny’s expansion plans. “The truth is that an unnecessary expansion into this service area compromises the effectiveness of the Health Information Exchange [HIE],” Romeo said in the press release. Romeo also stated, "While others seek to confuse the marketplace for their own professional gain, our focus is pure: to help providers improve the continuum of care."

During interviews Romeo and Hixny's McKinney both addressed the expansion plans. Romeo says Hixny’s expansion into its territory creates competition between the HIEs and says the competition is a “distraction, it’s confusing for participants and it’s completely unnecessary.”

McKinney says, “The primary reason for us to consider expansion is because patients and providers really are not bound by county borders. We have long been a trail blazer as an HIE both in the state and around the country. From our perspective, reaching into those regions helps to meet the needs of those patients.” McKinney says Hixny officials recognized that there was an overlap of patients seeing providers both in Hixny’s service area and in neighboring counties.

“We looked at data for patients already inside our master patient index, and we saw significant percentages of patients already had records inside our systems, so for those providers and those patients, getting a more accurate and complete record and making that system available to providers seemed like a valuable exercise to bring all that information to one place,” he says. “This gives providers a choice in terms of what they value with regard to the services that are provided.”

According to Hixny’s website, 1 in 5 residents of the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier already have Hixny records, and that figure increases to more than 1 in 2 in counties neighboring Hixny's established service area, the website states.

HealthlinkNY's service area

Hixny's service area

McKinney also notes that it is not uncommon for multiple HIEs to serve multiple markets and he believes its beneficial to have two HIEs serving the same counties. “I think what’s most important is to meet the needs of patients and providers. Ultimately, it’s about patients and providers and making sure they have access to the information that they need,” he says.

And in response to Romeo’s statement that Hixny’s expansion creates “confusion and uncertainty in the marketplace.” McKinney says, “I can’t comment on her response; what I can say it that we’re very committed to our expansion and delivering the data and the information that will improve care and lower costs for patients and providers in the region.”

Hixny (formerly known as the Health Information Xchange of New York) launched in 1999 as a collaboration between Iroquois Health Care Alliance, which represents upstate hospitals, and the New York Health Plan Association. The HIE currently serves 1.7 million patients.

Regional HIEs enable provider organizations to access and exchange health information with participants in their region, and, in New York State, all eight QEs connect to SHIN-NY, which acts as a hub to provide access to patients’ health information statewide. When contacted for comment, Valerie Grey, executive director of the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), stated, “Ultimately, our role is to help expand participation in the information network and support all of our partners in that process. We’re going to continue that work with each of our eight regional networks because increased participation will improve health outcomes across New York.”

Historically, HIEs separately increase their networks within their agreed-upon geographic areas, while there also is a great deal of collaboration between regional HIEs. However, one challenge for many HIE leaders is determining how to exchange information with competing organizations.

Healthcare researcher Julia Adler-Milstein, Ph.D., who has done extensive research on HIEs, says there are regions with multiple HIEs operating and competition among HIEs is a common issue, although it’s often discussed in “backroom” conversations. Adler-Milstein is an associate professor of medicine and director of the Clinical Informatics and Improvement Research Center, School of Medicine, at the University of California San Francisco.

Three years ago, Adler-Milstein was part of a team of researchers from the Mathematica Policy Research, the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Michigan, School of Information that published research examining health IT adoption, including the advancement of community HIEs. As part of that study, the researchers surveyed HIE leaders about barriers to development, and 84 percent of respondents cited competition among HIEs as a barrier to their development.

In Opposing Hinxy's Expanion, HealthlinkNY Claims "Sour Grapes"

HealthlinkNY officials also take issue with the wording of Hixny’s press release stating that information sharing "historically lags" in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier region, which is HealthlinkNY's territory.

McKinney says, "There has been public information that has demonstrated that the growth of SHIN-NY across the state has been uneven and so we’re basing [that] on some of that information that has demonstrated that certain areas have grown faster than others." He adds, “We think our press release stands for itself, in terms of demonstrating that there is a need for Hixny to deliver the data and the information that will improve care and lower costs for patients and providers in the region.”

In HealthlinkNY’s press release, Romeo said Hixny’s claims against HealthlinkNY’s impact and progress are "completely unfounded.”

HealthlinkNY, which launched in 2005, has all 35 hospitals in the Hudson Valley and Catskill region participating and sending data to their HIE, as well as 1,207 sites, according to Romeo. HealthlinkNY also recently hit the two million patient consent mark and has 374 participating provider organizations, up from 271 at the end of 2017, according to Romeo. HealthlinkNY also administers two Population Health Improvement Programs (PHIPs) in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier. HealthlinkNY’s service area population is just shy of 2.9 million residents and includes nearly 1,800 participating locations.

Further, Romeo stated in the press release that Hixny’s claims “sound like a case of sour grapes after being passed over during our search for a strategic partner.” HealthlinkNY has entered into strategic partnership discussions with HealtheConnections, another HIE located in Syracuse that serves central New York, and Romeo stated, “HealthlinkNY had recently advised Hixny that they did not make the cut.”

When reached for comment on Romeo’s claim, McKinney responded, “Hixny’s strategy for expansion is solely based on getting providers data that is complete, accurate and up-to-date and supporting the success of the SHIN-NY by improving the overall health of our communities.” 

Romeo notes that HealthlinkNY has significant plans underway in the Hudson Valley and Catskill regions to increase its presence and breadth of services offered. As part of this strategy, HealthlinkNY is looking to work with a strategic partner with “innovative services and an unwavering commitment to providing value,” she says. After interviewing potential partners, HealthlinkNY decided to collaborate with HealtheConnections.

Romeo said in the press release that HealthlinkNY entered discussions with HealtheConnections because “they are in alignment with us with respect to mission, best practices, services, capabilities, and culture.” She further stated, “They also will help power a more sophisticated technology platform as well as a complementary program for population health, critical with today’s burgeoning opioid crisis and the need for increased access to mental health services. We want to take this to the next level.”

Romeo further expanded on the partnership: “The combination of services currently provided by both QE's will be expanded by this partnership. Just a few examples are: additional functionality regarding actionable analytics, HEDIS reporting, as well as alerts provided how and when participants need them. We are looking forward to synergies and shared best practices between both organizations.”

 


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Regional New York HIE, Hixny, Adds Nine Counties to Its Territory

September 17, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Hixny, a regional health information exchange (HIE) based in Albany, has added nine counties to its territory, committing a significant amount of funding over the next 18 months to connect local providers.

Hixny is one of the state’s eight qualified entities (QE) connected by the Statewide Health Information Network for New York (SHIN-NY) – a “network of networks” that allows the electronic exchange of clinical information and connects healthcare statewide – overseen by the New York State Department of Health.

“The success of the SHIN-NY hinges on meeting the needs of providers based on complete, accurate and up-to-date data,” Mark McKinney, CEO, Hixny, said in a statement. “At Hixny we’ve demonstrated the effectiveness of our model – and want to do the same for the providers and patients in our neighboring regions.”

The region in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier has historically lagged in connecting providers to one another and collecting patient consent, according to Hixny officials.

Hixny’s territory encompasses 28 counties north and west of the Capital District and south of Hudson Valley. In its existing region, 100 percent of hospitals and three out of every four providers are connected via Hixny. Ninety-two percent of adult patients have given consent to their physicians, a number that increases each month. Additionally, it offers the only patient portal in the state called Hixny for You, allowing patients to view their own medical history, with data that spans the entire state.

“Their reputation precedes them,” Yuk-Wah Chan, M.D., a family practitioner in Pleasant Valley, NY, part of Hixny’s new territory, who recently signed-up, said in a statement. “More than ever, physicians need to deliver higher quality and more personalized care to their patients while lowering costs – to do that, you need access to the best, most reliable data. And that’s Hixny.”

Eight total locations have already signed participation agreements with Hixny: Dialysis Clinic, Inc.’s three locations in Elmsford, Hawthorne and Yorktown; Hurley Avenue Family Medicine’s three locations in Kingston, Stone Ridge and Saugerties; Premier Dialysis Center in Goshen and Dr. Chan’s practice.

All participating organizations will have access to patient information across the state through the SHIN-NY.

“We are pleased to welcome these new providers to Hixny; their decision proves that providers who have a choice will choose better data,” McKinney stated. “Hixny is changing the game and this news is only the first of many announcements that demonstrate why Hixny is the best option.”

 

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