This year nearly half of El Paso’s physician population will be connected through the Paso del Norte Health Information Exchange. Under the leadership of its new executive director Jon Law, the exchange will bring on four of the county’s major hospitals, providing a HIPAA-compliant communication service to every doctor who sees patients at any of the three Hospitals of Providence campuses and University Medical Center. Law estimates the figure to be around 700 physicians.
“We’re coming to life this year,” Law said.
Law began overseeing the HIE last fall. He was chosen by the HIE’s eight board members comprised of El Paso healthcare leaders: chair Jacob Cintron, CEO of Del Sol Medical Center; Sally Hurt-Deitch, market CEO of the Hospitals of Providence; Jim Valenti, CEO of UMC; Dr. Juan Escobar, a local cardiologist representing the El Paso Medical Society; Myna Deckert, former Paso del Norte Health Foundation CEO; Robert Resendez, El Paso Health Department director; Frank Dominguez, CEO of El Paso First; and Dr. Richard Lange, president of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. Law was an easy choice as the founder of the HIE back in 2010. He’s spent years working with local partners to get the organization up and running.
“The HIE is a way to electronically share health data between medical providers,” Law explains. “Doctors are starting to have electronic medical record systems in their offices. The HIE allows those systems to talk to each other.”
The service gives physicians the most up to date information possible on a patient, including other providers the patient has seen, medications they’ve been taking and everything from allergies to previous diagnoses. Law says the electronic data improves physician efficiency and workflow, as well as patient care.
“They can avoid duplicating tests that have already been done, which could actually save the patient and health care system some money, “ Law said.
Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Michiel Noe agrees, describing a situation he sees over and over again. He will run multiple, costly tests on a Medicaid or Medicare patient. The patient then goes to another physician, for either a second opinion or different diagnosis, but doesn’t explain she was just tested. That physician then repeats the tests Noe did just days before.
“It’s an endless cycle of wasted money,” Noe said. “If we could communicate with each other, it would really help.”
HIE also offers DIRECT email accounts, a form of HIPPA-compliant email, so doctors can share digital information back and forth with providers. Law says more than 100 doctors in El Paso use the service. The email’s referral tool allows the doctors to give criteria for patients they’ll accept. For example, if the specialist is a cardiologist, and they want certain types of tests sent with the referral, it can be built into the referral tool. If those tests aren’t done or shared, then the referral won’t be finalized.
“It really helps the workflow of the physicians, to make sure they have the documents they need before they see the patient,” Law said.
With four hospitals subscribing to the exchange, El Paso is leading the state in electronic medical records. El Paso will offer more coverage, in terms of percentage of hospitals connected through exchanges, then most of all the communities in Texas, according to Law.
Privacy is an issue that may lead some patients to opt out of the service. The HIE allows patients to do so when they register at the hospital, but it’s flexible enough to let them opt back in later if they choose. Even still, nationwide hacking schemes that dominated the headlines have some concerned about the server’s security.
“Any system can be hacked,” Law said. “There’s always risk involved. But we’re taking all the precautions we can to minimize that risk.”
El Paso HIE’s next frontier is getting private practices to subscribe, but the cost is an issue for some doctors including Noe. Law could not give a specific cost for the service, but said the hospitals are paying for the subscription, as well as the HIE’s board members. Private physicians will be asked to contribute if they want to be connected, which Noe says is expensive. He paid $400,000 to invest in his own electronic medical record system.
Law is also looking forward to working with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to expand the service, and add cross-border exchanges, but he says that’s far into the future.
The HIE is located in the Wells Fargo building, 19th floor, (915) 242-0674.
Ashlie Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com.