Managing Clinical Data Exchange: Why Practices Should Pay Attention

October 25, 2011

For practices and other healthcare organizations to stay in business, a shift away from traditional collaboration habits, which are riddled with problems, is necessary.

In theory, collaborating with other healthcare organizations through the use of electronic communications is a great idea. 

But there are dozens of reasons healthcare organizations - from big hospitals to small physician practices - make excuses that prevent it from happening, said Douglas Dietzman, manager of technology information systems for Michigan Health Connect (MHC), at the MGMA11 Conference in Las Vegas. Many organizations simply don’t take to the idea of teaming up with their competitors. Others are afraid of ongoing costs of electronic communication.

“It gets a little bit crazy sometimes,” said Dietzman during his “Taking Control of Care Collaboration in Your Community” session.

However, today’s existing means of patient care collaboration between competing healthcare organizations can be a bit chaotic and time-draining, said Dietzman. Practices that rely on traditional collaboration methods are well-versed with its problems, which include lost faxes, misplaced papers, and wasteful activities like walking back and forth with referrals. These problems make it difficult for providers to stay in sync with their patients.

“Financially, everyone is starting to get squeezed, we can’t afford to have this time wasted,” said Dietzman.

But for healthcare organizations to stay in business, a shift away from traditional paper-, phone-, and fax-based collaboration habits, which are riddled with problems, will become more necessary. Those practices that don’t pay attention to improving clinical data exchange will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

“As physicians are getting more EHR systems in their practice, they want data electronically in their systems,” said Dietzman. “So hospitals are getting hit with 40 or 50 requests to build interfaces.”

This creates a paradoxical situation: Healthcare organizations are not equipped for seamless clinical data exchange, but if they don’t do it they’ll be “out of the game,” said Dietzman.

Enter an effective health information exchange (HIE), a seamless system where data flows easily from one healthcare organization to another, regardless of which EHR each entity is using. Dietzman said MHC - a regional health information organization (RHIO) funded by large healthcare organizations in the state - facilitates and manages HIE services, acting as a neutral, “non-threatening” third party that creates electronic systems that allow competitors to communicate, sharing documents, images, and other data.

The benefits have already been realized: Today, healthcare organizations at 82 locations aided by MHC electronically send 830,000 results and 13,400 lab orders per month.

So how does your practice get started?

If there isn’t an HIE service in your state to serve as a neutral party to facilitate electronic collaboration, you can try to find like-minded medical groups and hospitals to work with.

“You need a solid core,” said Dietzman, adding that when asked to collaborate on electronic data exchange, your healthcare practice should “be one of those that sticks your hand up and says ‘pick me’” to hospitals that are interested in collaboration.

There are a growing number of physician offices and hospitals that are OK with HIE today.

“Look for the ones that are doing interfacing with hospitals or other groups already,” said Dietzman.