HEALTHeLINK, the clinical information exchange connecting hospitals, physicians, and payers in Western New York, has secured more than 1 million uniquely consented patients.

According to Dan Porreca, executive director of HEALTHeLINK, this achievement represents a significant community milestone for the eight counties the HIE serves, as it continues to improve quality of care, patient safety, while reducing healthcare costs by eliminating redundant tests.

“It is the doctors, practices and hospitals that capture the patient consents, so they can get access to the information,” says Porreca, noting that New York is an opt-in state for patients wanting to share their data with HIEs. But, he contends it is patients that “hold the key” to enabling their treating providers to have a “more complete picture of their medical record.”

Of HEALTHeLINK’s more than 1 million uniquely consented patients, about 95 percent of those who consent authorize their health information—including diagnostic images, lab reports, and medication history—to be securely shared among treating providers at the point of care.

Erie County Medical Center

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“Early on, we were contemplating ways that we could capture consents without putting a burden on provider organizations. We tried a lot of different things but at the end of day patient trust is the highest with their doctors,” adds Porreca. “The vast majority of those consents take place in doctors’ offices and hospitals throughout the community.”

Currently, all of Western New York’s hospitals and 87 percent of physician practices participate in the not-for-profit HIE, which holds more than 206 million records and continues to bring on data sources.

“We’re very fortune in Western New York to have that level of collaboration amongst those competitors—and, in some cases adversaries when you get into negotiations,” says Porreca. “However, when they sit around our board table, it’s a collaborative process.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledges that HEALTHeLINK still has work to do in terms of getting more physician practices to provide data to the HIE via their electronic health records, as well as ensuring higher quality data. “There’s some data that we’re just not getting,” according to Porreca. “EKGs have been a hard thing for us to get because there’s no standard in that space.”

Incorporated in 2006, HEALTHeLINK is a part of the Statewide Health Information Network for New York (SHIN-NY), enabling providers to also access patient data from across the state.

“There’s eight of us HIEs across the state now—down from about a dozen or so due to consolidation— but there is an HIE that covers every inch of New York State,” observes Porreca. “Interoperability is what we’re about—getting the data to where it needs to be so doctors can better take care of their patients.”

Porreca was recently elected chairman of the board of directors of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC), a national trade association representing 55 HIEs and five associate members that serve almost 75 percent of the U.S. patient population.

As the largest consortium of HIEs in the country, he points out that SHIEC has initiated a number of regional projects designed to facilitate the flow of patient information across state lines.

“There are alerts that go out so if a patient from Colorado gets seen in an Arizona emergency department an (admissions, discharges, and transfers) flows from the HIE in Arizona to Colorado based on the patient’s zip code,” says Porreca, who adds that HEALTHeLINK is a founding member of SHIEC.

“We have some challenges in New York because of our opt-in consent model that we’re working through. But, we’re hoping to be a part of that,” he concludes.

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