Let nurses focus on care, not tracking down data

Now is the time to support the creation of a statewide health information exchange network.

Ask any healthcare professional or provider, and they’ll tell you: to take care of the patients and communities they serve, they need comprehensive health data to deliver the best care. They’ll also tell you that in California, it can be very difficult to do that across different healthcare providers and systems.

Before becoming Executive Director of Palliative Care Services at Charter Health Care Group, I could never have imagined the amount of time my team and I would spend tracking down patients’ medical records to get basic information, including current medications, allergies, recent procedures, and underlying conditions.

At Charter Health Care Group, a post-acute and long-term care provider organization located in Southern California, we provide in-home care to seniors who have recently been hospitalized or are living with serious illnesses. Until two years ago, like so many healthcare providers in our state, my colleagues and I would spend hours on the phone trying to reach busy hospital nurses and faxing requests to providers’ offices just to get my patients’ records. It would take days just to get a complete picture of our patients’ needs.

Knowing when our most vulnerable patients need help, and figuring out how to help them, shouldn’t be so labor-intensive. That’s why, in 2019, Charter joined a nonprofit statewide health data network, which securely makes health data available to any medical professional in our region, so they can immediately access a patient’s complete medical history. Today, we are fortunate to have real-time clinical information on 95% of our patients that is inclusive of all of their health data across providers, hospitals, and health plans.

Thanks to this health information exchange (HIE) organization, we can walk into a patient’s home with background on why they were in the hospital and what their treatment involved. We no longer lose valuable treatment time because we have to spend hours tracking down health histories. Instead, we can focus on doing our jobs: to provide the best care possible.

The difference has been profound. Now that we have access to the complete health histories of our patients, we have reduced hospital readmissions in our region by half, saving millions in healthcare costs – but most importantly, lives.

With accurate and timely health records, we have been able to catch harmful drug interactions and medication allergies and provide more tailored support for individual conditions. Access to health records also improves our patient relationships. We no longer have to place the burden on patients or their families to provide us with their medication and procedure histories at the same time that they need to focus on their healing.

Unfortunately, while Charter has access to this type of information, there are millions of California health providers that don’t. Right now, most health data in California is siloed within instances of electronic health records. If patients or providers like me are lucky, records are shared locally within one of our state’s regional HIEs.

This year, as we recognize Patient Safety Week amid a global pandemic, it is more important than ever for California healthcare leaders and policymakers to invest in building a statewide HIE network, which has already helped us improve the quality and safety of our care within Charter.

Many states across the country have created these statewide networks including Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Texas––but not California.

Yet, it’s encouraging that leaders in the state have heard this call for change loud and clear. A new bill, AB1131, is making its way through the legislature that would pave the way for California’s first statewide HIE network.

As I’ve seen firsthand, HIE networks allow nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals to provide better-informed care—especially in an emergency—because we have real-time access to a patient’s vital health information. Our patients shouldn’t have to wait for outdated information-sharing systems to delay care that addresses their immediate health needs. Now is the time to support the creation of a statewide health information exchange network––a proven solution that will help our medical professionals deliver the care that every Californian deserves.

About the Author

Bethany Goodman, Executive Director of the Charter Palliative Program, has been a nurse for 10 years. She successfully oversees the My Path Palliative Program for Charter Healthcare, which includes a very medically complex and diverse demographic that includes not only a terminal diagnosis but severe behavioral health and psychosocial components.