Building a network
Smita Bakhai, MD, MPH, has spent the past year or so exploring how technology can improve the quality of diabetes care as part of a project for the NCQA Diabetes Recognition Program, which certifies providers of evidence-based diabetes care. As medical director for the outpatient internal medicine clinic at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, NY, more than half of her patient population is diabetic and has risk factors, such as high blood pressure, for related complications.
For providers, Bakhai says, one of the primary benefits of a robust HIT network is better communication—with both patients and other providers. Free-flowing information allows physicians to better track the slew of referrals to specialists and various tests required for a typical diabetic patient over a lifetime. It also makes it easier to follow up with a patient after a discharge or diagnosis, monitor the disease over time, improve patient self-management, and even jump on early detection. The result, hopefully, is reduced readmission rates and ED visits from heart attack, stroke, and other complications of diabetes.
Erie County Medical Center, which has about 550 inpatient beds and 40 outpatient clinics, is one of nine hospitals working to establish that level of connectivity between physicians through HEALTHeLINK, a regional health information exchange in western New York that includes physicians, hospitals, and payers. About 90% of lab results and 75% of radiology tests already flow through the exchange, and the participants are working to build better two-way communication between primary care physician and specialist EHRs, says Dan Porreca, the executive director of HEALTHeLINK.
"When you think about the care for a diabetic patient, coordination of care is a critical element to efficient treatment. You have a team of physicians that need to be in sync with the primary care physician in order to make sure the patient is getting the most efficient, effective care," he says.
To make that happen, HEALTHeLINK network recently received a $16.1 million Beacon award from HHS to improve quality and reduce costs related to diabetes care. The funding comes with requirements to measure 31 outcomes and goals of a 5% reduction in ED visits, hospitalizations for ambulatory care, and 30-day readmission rates.