By Another Voice | Published October 7, 2018
By Dr. Anthony J. Billittier

After spending the last decade building Western New York’s Health Information Exchange, HEALTHeLINK is focusing on various technology platforms so that providers can enhance patient care. These include streamlining care coordination and care transitions, improving the quality of data, and exploring how best to serve the community for population health measures and reporting.

As HEALTHeLINK continues to explore more ways to serve Western New York physicians and health care organizations in the secure, electronic exchange of clinical information, it has also become a valuable asset when something unforeseen happens that can impact access to patient records. Through HIE, HEALTHeLINK can ensure care continuity and patient safety by providing instant and secure access to data that may have become inaccessible for treating providers through their own electronic medical record.

For instance, when a cybersecurity attack shut down the computer network of one of the region’s health care systems last year, HEALTHeLINK was in a unique position to serve as a backup system during the recovery effort. This was an example in which the provider was already a HEALTHeLINK data source prior to the attack and had been uploading its patient care data.
This allowed other health care organizations to continue to have access to clinical data of patients that they also provided care to, which in essence is the foundation of HEALTHeLINK – giving providers the most up to date clinical data at the point of care.

Conversely, the sudden closing of an oncology practice earlier this year may have resulted in significant patient safety issues due to a lack of medical records. Even though the practice regularly accessed patient data through HEALTHeLINK, it was not sharing clinical data via the HIE. Had they been, the new physicians who took on the care of the practice’s former patients would have had access to this information.

Instead, the new physicians were basically flying blind as past medical history and current treatment information was being pieced together from other sources, including the patients and caregivers themselves. This could have led to duplicate and unnecessary tests and procedures that could harm the patient.

While these are worst-case scenarios, they demonstrate the efficacy of HEALTHeLINK and HIE in enhancing patient care. They also provide valuable lessons as it pertains to accessing important clinical data during a crisis.

The bottom line is that if physicians and practices are only using HEALTHeLINK to access medical information and they are not at the same time contributing medical information from their own electronic records, then HIE will not reach its full potential.

There is no doubt that HEALTHeLINK is enhancing patient care and safety; it’s time for all physicians and providers to go beyond embracing it and fully utilizing it.

Anthony J. Billittier, MD, is an emergency physician with UBMD at the Erie County Medical Center, chief medical officer of Millennium Collaborative Care and a HEALTHeLINK board member.


Another Voice: Leveraging health information exchange for care continuity


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