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Eyes on the prize: HIE efficiency gains

July 30, 2009
by David Raths
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A recent survey about health information exchange by the eHealth Initiative reminds us of the ongoing need to focus on documenting improved outcomes and business efficiencies that are the direct results of participating in the HIE.

Despite reporting reduced staff time spent on handling lab and radiology results, survey respondents said that "defining the value that accrues to the users of the health information exchange" was among the top three most pressing challenges they face.

Well, a July 29 webinar put on by the eHealth Initiative featured one great example of the potential efficiencies to be realized through the transmission of medical data.

Laura Train, deputy special advisor for HIT in the Office of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, talked about the transformation just beginning as SSA moves from a system that was all paper-based just a few years ago to electronic exchange of health data for disability claims.

First, a few numbers: SSA makes 15 million requests for medical evidence a year to 500,000 clinics, doctors and hospitals. It spends $500 million per year gathering evidence on disability claims.

Over the past year, SSA has been working on a "point-to-point" interchange of data with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and with MedVirginia through the NHIN. Train says its goal now is to focus expansion on other providers through NHIN, rather than creating more point-to-point solutions. Although the exchanges have been operational only a few months, Train says the initial results have been outstanding. The longest delays in determining whether someone is eligible for a disability payment is waiting for medical providers to find and send records. But what used to take weeks with manual processes, she says, is now being sent in minutes or even seconds through MedVirginia.

The providers are happy, she says, because it cuts down on the manual process of pulling files and Xeroxing or faxing them so they can then be scanned again into the SSA system.

The stimulus bill gave SSA $24 million to add 10 to 20 more health information exchange partners via NHIN. Proposals will be issued in August with awards issued next January. (For more information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/hit.)

Train says expanding the exchange promises faster benefits for recipients and lower administrative costs and reduction in uncompensated care for providers.

"We expect to continue to test and expand on what we already know works, and bring more providers on," she says. "And if they can exchange data with us through NHIN, they can also exchange data with each other. This benefits everyone."

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