A Peoria, Ill.-based health information exchange is tying the surrounding region's long-term and post-acute care facilities into its clinical network, under the assumption that quicker and more complete information sharing will result in better care.

The Central Illinois Health Information Exchange (CIHIE) connected 30 long-term care facilities into its network in the autumn of 2013. Clinical Services Manager Lauren Wiseman says the project, which has since added two more LTC facilities, is proceeding, and funded, through June.

Wiseman says that even though long-term care facilities and LTC-oriented electronic health records are not among the beneficiaries of the HITECH incentive payments from the federal government, there is enough synchronicity between the LTC facilities and regional hospitals that payback is evident.

"Many of our hospitals are working on Stage 2 of meaningful use, so they’re starting to think about the Clinical Care Document exchange for transition of care," she says, "and the LTC facilities actually offer them a great opportunity to meet that measure fairly easily."

In a recent presentation at the annual HIMSS conference, CIHIE Executive Director Joy Duling offered reasons why connecting LTC facilities is such a vital part of the overall communications networking infrastructure: the transition point between them and acute-care hospitals is a critical juncture for quality care, and timely electronic communication can help eliminate not only reams of paperwork but also duplicate tests.

The HIE opted to take advantage of an already existing data format the LTC's were sending to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Minimum Data Set, and converted the MDS data to a Continuity of Care Document readable by other HIE participants, an approach pioneered by Pennsylvania's KeyHIE.

Presently, the deployment is so new that Wiseman says there are few hard metrics to measure the network's results. However, she says, anecdotal evidence regarding avoiding duplicate testing is encouraging. For example, she says, redundant blood tests that often involve multiple "sticks," which can cause significant discomfort, have been avoided. And, Wiseman says she has heard of at least one instance in which a physician was able to avoid giving a patient a drug that could have caused a serious allergic reaction, thanks to the exchange.

"So we have these really good stories, but it's hard to quantify what wasn't done," she says.

To encourage participation beyond the initial grant funding, Duling said the LTC's will be charged what would typically be the HIE's non-profit rate, vendors either did connection work at no cost or negotiated pricing, and that ultimately, HIE executives hoped to absorb ongoing connectivity costs into CIHIE's basic infrastructure.

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