Lots of plans, but still no product for the Health Information Exchange

Electronic medical records have become common, but the ability to share them easily between providers lags.

Courtesy of Flickr user MC4 Army, used under CC license.

Electronic medical records have become common, but the ability to share them easily between providers lags.

Nearly 18 months and $5 million later, Connecticut’s fourth attempt to create a statewide Health Information Exchange (HIE) is still in the planning phase.

A Health Information Exchange would allow physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers across the state to share patient medical records. This fourth attempt to create an exchange began 10 years after Connecticut originally started investing millions of dollars into the idea. Between 2007 and 2017, $23 million was invested with no tangible progress.

Members of the Health Information Technology Advisory Council, which is in charge of this fourth attempt, are feeling impatient.

“There is this tension between thoroughness and action, perhaps in our decision-making process that needs to be considered,” said Mark Raymond, the state’s chief information officer and a member of the advisory council. Clearly frustrated, Raymond said that when he hears talk of planning, he assumes the process will be delayed at least another year.

During the past year of planning, the Connecticut State Medical Society launched CTHealthLink, it’s own version of a statewide health information exchange. To date, three different practice groups – Starling Physicians, Southern New England Ear, Nose, Throat and Facial Plastic Surgery Group and Soundview Medical Associates LLC – have joined the network.

Spending another year planning does not sit well with many of the council members,  Health Information Technology Officer Allan Hackney admitted after Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s like a room of caged animals,” Hackney said. “We got to get something happening really fast.”

But how fast anything will happen depends on funding to implement the plans. Currently, Hackney and the council are waiting to hear if they will receive an $11.4 million grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. They are hoping to hear within the month.

“The funding for the HIE portion has taken longer than I wanted, by a number of months,” Hackney said. “I was hoping that we would be in pilots now, but now it’s not until September-ish, assuming I get my funding.”

Assuming the funding comes through, Hackney feels confident that the council has thoroughly planned all aspects of the coming HIE – including how it will be governed for years to come –  allowing it to succeed in the long-term.

“There’s a race to try and get data moving, but you can’t forget to have proper controls,” Hackney said. “You need to be financially sound on the choices that you are making and so on. We are trying to do that in advance.”

Although the Health Information Exchange may not be up and running yet, there is a lot of momentum building in many of the council’s workgroups.

For example, Cancel Rx – a grassroots effort from physicians and medical professionals across the state – has been meeting regularly since January. The group, led by Dr. Tom Agresta a professor and director of medical informatics in family medicine at UConn Health and a council member, is working to create a system that would allow for simpler electronic communication between prescribers and pharmacists and eliminate prescription fraud.

“This Cancel Rx is important because if you can have an indication of a prescription canceled, that provides clarity (about) the actual medications … a person should be taking,” Hackney said.

The Cancel Rx subgroup has joined with the council in the hopes that it will make receiving funding easier.

“Instead of just operating as a grassroots organization, they can bring some of the recommendations to this body and maybe get funding,” Hackney said.