Web-Based Wonders

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Magazine , May 12, 2010
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But, Saff says, it's not just about the money. "There's just this awesome ability to collaborate," he says.

At the root of why organizations come to the same table is the patient—giving them the ability to control and access their data and to improve quality and patient safety. The community has healthcare organizations that run about 20 different EMR systems that don't talk to each other, Saff notes. And pertinent medical information can be lost or overlooked when patients seek care from multiple providers. Using the Relay product to communicate and share information facilitates physician-hospital and patient-doctor communication, collaboration, and partnerships, Saff says.

In Kansas City, MO, the Web-based program is helping Saint Luke's Health System focus on physician alignment, says Deborah Gash, vice president and chief information officer of the 11-hospital system. Doctors have access to lab results in near-real time and they can access EMRs from their home or office. The ability to communicate with patients about nonurgent matters in a private and secure online format saves time and means fewer encounters and less time playing telephone tag. "It's a way to make it easier for them to practice with us."

Physicians throughout West Michigan are using another Web-based platform that integrates clinical information with the EMR at physicians' offices. The program sends real-time laboratory, radiology, and transcribed results directly to the physician's EMR or to an electronic "dropbox" in his or her office. The eSHare Results solution is deployed jointly by Spectrum Health, a seven-hospital system in Grand Rapids, MI, and Medicity, Inc., in Salt Lake City.

More than 75 physician offices across eight counties in Michigan now receive data electronically from Spectrum Health and an additional 70 offices are in the process of being connected. Physician practices and other hospitals can also submit electronic lab orders directly to the health system and perform other clinical recordkeeping tasks. For offices still using paper charts, Spectrum also supplies a bridge solution that allows them to begin interacting electronically.

It's an efficient method, says Patrick O'Hare, senior vice president and CIO of Spectrum Health. "We have been able to provide this information electronically, which helps our physician community become more efficient and, more important, improves patient care because the information can be accessed throughout a patient's life."

Patient education is also important, O'Hare says. "Fundamentally, it's information regarding them. It is information they should have access to," he says. Healthcare should make patients' information available "in the most relevant setting, in this case via the Web, so they can be more engaged [and] take more responsibility for their health."

And that's a big selling point for physicians: that it engages patients and improves patient satisfaction, Gash says.

"There are very few pieces of patient software that get both patients and their families engaged" and that works across facilities, Saff says.

"It really is about the right thing for the patient," DiSanzo adds.

Gienna Shaw is senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. She may be contacted at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
But Are Patients Buying It?

As part of HITECH's meaningful use provision, hospitals and physicians must give patients timely access to electronic health data and tools upon request. Online portals seem like a convenient and user-friendly way to share medical records, test results, and other data—but do patients really want their personal health information floating around the Web? Healthcare IT professionals know there are many ways to make sure the data is secure and that there are laws in place to protect sensitive information, but it still makes some consumers nervous and draws the ire of privacy advocates.

"We're talking about HIPAA-compliant sharing," says Frank DiSanzo, chief information officer at Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ. And while willingness to participate will vary from patient to patient, he says, most will buy in if physicians explain the benefits of sharing information between providers to them. "People are smart. I think if it's explained to them correctly, they'll express the proper concern; but they'll also allow for the exchange of data if it's going to benefit their care."

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