It was every adult child’s worst nightmare – a frantic drive to the Emergency Department with mom getting worse by the minute. For Brenda Shipley, the stress was just beginning.
Upon arrival, the staff asked Brenda for a list of her mother’s medications. She didn’t have one, but assumed they’d be able to look up her mother’s medication list in their electronic medical record (EMR) since her mother’s primary care physician’s office was in the medical office building on the hospital campus. Unfortunately, they didn’t share the same EMR. The void of information was felt just as acutely by the hospital staff, who could only rely on Brenda’s relaying of her mother’s medical history and medication list. In the end, the Emergency Department staff did what they did best: Brenda’s mother was treated and recovered, but the episode made an impression.
Connie, Connecticut’s new health information exchange, was developed to ensure that our residents and providers no longer find themselves in a similar situation to Brenda and the hospital’s care team. An HIE is a safe, confidential way of sharing health information electronically among doctors’ offices, hospitals, labs, radiology centers, and other healthcare organizations.
On Monday, May 3, 2021, the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy and Connie formally announced commencement of operations.
A health information exchange (HIE) in itself is not a new concept. Since the early days of medicine, healthcare providers have needed to share critical health information with others involved in the care and treatment of their patients through any means available, whether in one-on-one conversations, phone calls, postal mail, or faxes.
Just as in Brenda’s situation, important clinical information doesn’t automatically transfer from one provider’s office to another. A closer reality is that patients with multiple chronic conditions lug boxes of their records from physician to physician. These types of experiences can lead to patient safety issues, poor quality of care, and higher health care costs.
Fortunately for all involved, technology has evolved considerably over the past decade. EMRs (electronic medical records) are used by most hospitals and physicians to store, retrieve, and analyze patient medical information to better inform their care decisions. Even though EMRs offer many benefits over paper-based medical charts, the need still exists to transport information from one physician’s EMR to another providing care for a shared patient. HIEs are the safe and secure way that can be done; they are highly efficient, while enforcing safeguards for patient privacy and confidentiality in the form of legally binding privacy contracts backed by federal privacy rules and laws.
Connecticut is not alone in using an HIE, and 45 other states have gone down the path on which the state is now embarking and seeing marked improvements in care delivery thanks to their implementation of health information exchanges including:
- Improving quality and safety of patient care by reducing medication and medical errors
- Increasing efficiency by eliminating unnecessary paperwork
- Providing caregivers with tools for more effective care and treatment
- Eliminating redundant or unnecessary testing
- Improving public health reporting and monitoring
- Reducing health-related costs
However, despite these benefits, concerns have been voiced over privacy protection, medical data security, inappropriate access, and the selling of medical information to insurers or other parties: the good news is that Connie’s first priority is the rights and privacy of patients and many of these concerns are addressed by HIPAA and Connie’s advanced security measures to keep patient healthcare data private and secure.
HIPAA (Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was made in 1996 to protect patients from health care delivery abuse and misuse while improving the amount of waste, and fraud in the health care system. It has received many updates since its enactment to match technology’s progression, including: the Privacy Rule, Security Rule, Breach Notification Rule, and the Omnibus Final Rule. Noncompliance with HIPAA, such as distributing patient medical information without consent or researching patient medical information for personal reasons, would result in prosecution for violating the terms of a system’s use.
Additionally, Connie’s security measures include consistent system checks, state of the art monitoring tools, and next-generation audit capabilities. If a patient changes their mind after opting out of Connie, they can easily opt back in and begin having their information shared to enjoy the benefits of an HIE.
We have a number of public information and communications activities planned to tell you more about exciting developments with Connie. We hope you’ll take the time to learn more about how Connie, in partnership with physicians, hospitals, state health officials and others, is working hard to enhance the health and wellbeing of Connecticut’s residents!
Jennifer Searls, MHA, is the Executive Director at Connie, CT’s state-wide health information exchange (HIE).
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.