HealtheLink moving closer to state, federal health networks

August 13, 2014 Updated Aug 13, 2014 at 7:47 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury, Buffalo Business First

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HealtheLink moving closer to state, federal health networks

August 13, 2014 Updated Aug 13, 2014 at 7:47 AM EDT

The increasing adoption of shared electronic medical records is having a "transformational" effect on health care, and it's only going to grow.

Local networks are looking forward to the next step, when pools of health data will be linked together across the state, said Dr. David Scamurra, a pathologist who serves as board chairman of HealtheLink, the regional health information organization (RHIO) for Western New York.

"HealtheLink is not a static pool of data that we're just piling together. It's a dynamic and fundamental change," he said. "It's transformational change."

Scamurra joined Dan Porreca, HealtheLink executive director, in remarks Tuesday aimed at briefing legislators, health care leaders and the media on the state of health information exchanges, how they've grown regionally and where they're going next.

They were joined by Dr. Howard Zucker, acting commissioner of the state Department of Health, who talked briefly about the governor's recent $55 million commitment to building the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY).

The state funds will be used to help connect the 10 RHIOs, including HealtheLink, and ultimately, connect New York to other states through a federal network. HealtheLink is also helping lead the way toward that federal network: In 2010, it received a $16 million federal Beacon Community Award from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to support the development of health IT systems and a health information exchange.

HealtheLink projects it will process 950,000 patient health queries this year, up from 610,000 queries last year and from 6,500 five years ago in its launch year. The system currently includes health information from 630,000 patients throughout Western New York who have opted to allow their records into the network.

Those records are accessible by more than 600 provider organizations representing over 3,200 health-care providers, including every hospital in the eight-county region as well as labs, imaging centers and more than 40 data sources.

Every time a physician requests a medical record, that query represents savings in terms of time and money on the part of the provider, the patient and the state. Paperwork and testing has gone down significantly, and both private and public payers are seeing less money spent on duplicative testing.

"It shows there's use, there's adoption and there is value ultimately being derived," Porreca said. "We're even more excited about what's to come."

Zucker, who visited Buffalo Tuesday afternoon for the briefing, said though each of the RHIOs are providing great savings and making significant strides, the next step will be extending that connectivity across the state so no matter where a patient goes for care, their records will be available instantly. And that will also mean a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars, he said, besides the reduction of administrative times and a speeding up of treatment times.

"Already, the usage of HealtheLink is causing a game-changing shift in efficiencies, a shift in cost and the quality of care," he said. "And as we know, quality of care is a critical and essential point of what we're trying to accomplish, both in this region and across the whole state."

It will also help in times of emergency. Zucker pointed to the difficulties in tracking patient records during Hurricane Sandy, when hundreds of hospital and nursing home patients found themselves shifted to a new setting. Zucker's previous role at the DOH was as first deputy commissioner, where he led the state's preparedness and response initiatives in natural disasters and emergencies.

"The SHIN-NY is one of the most important investments the state has made to improve quality of care and to improve efficiency of care," Zucker said.

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