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Healthconnect HIE takes off in Texas with vendor, provider help

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Health information exchange is the next frontier of meaningful use.  The ability for multiple providers to access a patient’s EHR data can often be a lifesaving gift, and Healthconnect in the Greater Houston are of Texas is spreading the word.  After announcing several new partnerships, Tiffany Champagne, Director of Business Development at the HIE, sat down with EHRintelligence to discuss Healthconnect’s mission and successes so far.

How is Healthconnect structured?  What kind of services do you offer?

We started out in 2011 with 14 counties and we merged with 2 adjacent areas to expand to twenty counties and 6.8 million potential patients.  There are 14,000 physicians in this area and 133 hospitals.  Right now we have 28 contracts with providers and major health systems, which represent about a quarter of the discharges in the area.  Payers are also involved.  We have two of the largest Medicaid HMOs in the State participating with us, too.

We received a Hi-Tech grant from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services to get the HIE off the ground. Medicity is our software vendor, and we have a federated, query and response model. We do not have a centralized data repository.  Aprima, Greenway, and Allscripts have all agreed to come to the table with no interface fees for physicians who use their products.  We’re really excited about that because it helps to eliminate barriers to physician interoperability.

Are you on the way towards sustainability?

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We feel like we’re on a good path towards sustainability.  Our federal funds end midway through 2014.  Everyone from physician offices and hospital systems to federally qualified healthcare clinics (FQHCs) will pay an annual fee to participate.  That way, we’re able to keep the costs for everyone quite low.  It’s really worked out well for our sustainability plan.  We expect to get there by the end of 2014, based upon our membership rate.

Have you found that providers are generally interested in HIE?

Yes, everyone sees the value to the community, but it’s a challenge to find to find the right champions within a practice or hospital to move it forward. I would say that our sales cycle probably lasts between six and twelve months for each major system.

We have the highest percentage of uninsured patients in the country in Harris County.  No one wants to do unnecessary treatments, tests, or imaging.  A physician wants to be able to say, “You just had a CT scan yesterday, or last week, and I know that if I do another one, it could result in unnecessary exposure and I’m not going to get reimbursed for it.”  If they can get more information about the patient, they can make better decisions.  So that’s not only a quantitative but a qualitative value.

What about physicians who don’t have EHRs?

They can connect with us using a web-based portal with view-only access.  They can see where their patients have been with other providers who are connected in the system; however they’re unable to contribute information if they’re not using an EHR.  We still have a very large number of physicians who don’t have EHRs.  The numbers I have say that about 40% of physicians still don’t have EHRs in Harris County.  So that’s why we selected our partnerships with Aprima, Greenway, and Allscripts, who will hopefully help us with that.  There are a lot of people looking and more and more are seeing the value in it.

What kind of growing pains has Healthconnect experienced?

It takes a tremendous amount of time.  It’s highly complex, and it doesn’t just happen overnight.  It doesn’t happen in a matter of six weeks.   It’s more like twelve weeks to twenty weeks, just depending on the complexity of the interface.

Even though Houston has the largest medical center in the country and the largest conglomeration of academic medical centers, we’re still building health information technology infrastructure.

There’s also the fact that it’s a highly competitive environment, and hospitals feel like their IT infrastructure is their competitive advantage.

What are your suggestions for other HIEs who are just starting?

What really helped us was that we really believe in doing our homework.  We benchmarked every HIE, successful and unsuccessful.  Why did certain ones fail?  What did they do?  So we made phone calls.  We called the successful and the unsuccessful.  We really tried to learn everything.  Everyone has been very open.  Everyone in the statewide HIE community has been helpful and very supportive.

Try to make sure that you’re really convincing others of the community value as well as the value to your organization.  You’ve got to go out there and see what that is, and make sure it’s communicated to those clients and health systems. That’s what’s made us successful so far.



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