Healthcare in the 21st century has seen great technological advancements and is witnessing a revolutionary approach to how medical records are filed and stored. The subsequent step is for healthcare records to become fully integrated so doctors can share patient information and utilize valuable data. Over the past five years, support has increased as practices transition to electronic medical records. In the greater Memphis area, a healthcare portal is being developed which fits well with the plans that are already in place to initiate clinical integration of the pediatric industry in the state. This Greater Memphis Community Health Network will be a community data repository where doctors can access secure, pertinent patient information and is designed for every area of healthcare from hospitals to school clinics to nursing homes. While pediatrics is the launch pad, the implications of what this can mean for the healthcare industry in Tennessee are enormous.
This project came about through diligent planning and strategizing between many local professionals and leaders and the existing physician community. Bill Appling of J. William Appling and Associates consulting firm has been on the forefront of raising awareness about the potential of clinical integration and databank storage through his work with the local pediatric independent physician association (PIPA).
"The response from the community has been extremely supportive because it has been a long time coming," Appling says. "This initiative is in response to persistent problems in local database acquisition and dissemination of both social and health related data in the Greater Memphis Area."
The portal is like a vault or holding tank that retains and links records in a private network. It is not online, is only accessible via a secure password and is easy to use. Planners and decision makers within the community, across the state and even on a national level will be able to search through this secured information portal and obtain data. It is designed to over-appropriate information for decision making on health related and other needs to better serve the community.
Initiating the portal in Memphis was decided based on the demographics, the large number of underserved individuals and the reality of a high obesity and diabetes population.
"The portal is a response in reducing medical errors, duplication of services that hold down costs and to using information to design the best disease and preventive measures possible," he adds.
Steve Clark, president and CEO of Informed Medical Networks, the local technology company hosting the portal, explains that the company has worked more than four years to create a private healthcare network in Tennessee. The company has helped build technology networks in the community with EMR and is working to collect all the data to start the portal. Recently a large, national company, NextGen Healthcare Information Systems, which will supply the application software practices will use to connect to the portal, elected to partner with Informed.
"We believe it's going to provide better information to the community by breaking down all the silos of information and aggregating it into one location," Clark says. "It is the consolidation of a splintered industry for the consolidation of providing better outcomes."
The portal will focus on healthcare data as well as on community demographics, Appling explains. This central repository of community related data provides the functionality required for processing, managing and analyzing the data for generating reports. It has the capability of providing the community with an array of health-related statistics, disease incidence rates and more, allowing the community to analyze and address both healthcare and social needs. By seeing the data sets of the community, doctors will have the tools to become more proactive in preventive healthcare.
"It is a revolution because it puts the focus of care on the individual," adds Alex Lippit of NextGen. "With these portals and the reimbursement changes, the focus will be on if the patient is getting good care."
As the healthcare landscape shifts to the possibility of a pay-for-performance program, this healthcare portal could be a key factor in how that program is carried out. Insurance companies are open to the portal idea and what it can mean for efficiently managing healthcare costs.
"Using the portal can show that you are an important link in a team of care and your confidence to work and share with others," Lippit says.
For those who worry they'll be downloading enormous amounts of software or won't be able to access information without being part of the NextGen system, the portal will be accessible by virtually any programming used in an office. Linking into the database is transparent to the users. They'll never notice a change on their computer screen. Informed Medical Networks has built partnerships with all the local technology carriers in the Memphis area so that healthcare providers can connect to the portal cost effectively. All physicians need to have is some form of EMR, and if they do not, a simple web connection can allow them access to read-only files.
Healthcare portals are still in their infancy and as the nation evolves into the information age, assimilation of clinical information will increase and ultimately lead to greater efficiency on multiple levels.
"We believe ultimately there will be consolidation of information nationally but it has to start locally," says Clark. "We've got an early start in trying to establish this model and our goal is to take this across the state of Tennessee."