A year ago in May, the federal government awarded a new nonprofit company in Tulsa $12 million to implement a secure, online network for patient medical data.
A year into the Beacon Community Award, the network is almost ready to launch. It’s called MyHealth Access Network, and it’s designed to help Oklahoma healthcare providers face some of the most basic challenges in the industry.
You might say that rural Oklahoma’s first problem when it comes to healthcare is lack of access. But not enough doctors is just the beginning.
Stacey Pace is the Director of the Southeast Oklahoma Rural Health Network. That includes McCurtain County Hospital, Choctaw County Hospital, Pushmataha County Hospital and McAlester Regional.
Right now, the Network is addressing another huge problem in both rural and urban healthcare systems—and that’s that providers don’t do a good job of sharing information about their patients.
“Say you’re a provider,” Pace explained, “and you refer someone out and they go to a doctor. Well, they may not ever come back and tell you what’s going on with them. So they kind of get lost in the cracks.”
It’s true more and more providers do keep electronic medical records. But that doesn’t necessarily make sharing easier.
Pace says sharing is still “very hard to do with the current electronic health systems that each person has because they’re all different.”
“They don’t interface together, and they’re really not able to talk together very well,” she said.
Working toward a Solution
That’s where MyHealth Access Network comes in.
“To boil it down, basically what we are doing is providing physicians with complete overview of where that patient has been in the healthcare system,” said Janice Horowitz, Director of Business Development for MyHealth.
“Where they’ve been treated, what medications they’re on, what allergies they have, what immunizations they’ve had, what procedures they’ve had, what they’re lab results are,” she said, “all of that is going to be accessible to physicians in one location.”
The idea is that different doctors won’t do things like duplicate procedures for new patients—they’ll already have earlier results.
With patient profiles on hand, emergency rooms won’t give patients something they’re allergic to.
These kinds of things happen a lot today, keeping costs high and ideal health outcomes low.
“It helps doctors make better medical decisions basically,” Horowitz said.
She says it’s a simple concept faced with complex implementation: it’s a major technical challenge to standardize everyone’s records in a form that incorporates all the relevant information and is easy for doctors to use.
But MyHealth has made a lot of progress, and right now, it’s well into its provider recruiting campaign.
Friday was its second annual Healthcare Quality Summit, which is a major part of that effort.
Dr. Daniel Duffy is the Dean of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Community Medicine. He explains that there’s a definite critical mass of participation necessary for the network to be effective.
“If there’s only one (Electronic Medical Record)—like, if only OU is in it, who needs it?” he said. “Because we already have that data at OU. But if there’s OU, St. John’s, OSU, St. Francis, Utica Park, all in there, then any one of our patients that may go to the other place for care, for whatever reason, the information will be available to us where we see the patient.”
He says he thinks MyHealth has reached that point.
“I think we’re there; it’s being loaded right now,” he said. “We’re probably getting close to that critical mass.”
He says OU is one of a few subscribers to be piloting the system, and that they’ve had good results so far.
Other subscribers, like the Southeast Oklahoma Rural Health Network, will go live in a month or two.
There is a small subscription fee—one challenge the service will face will be maintaining financial sustainability once the three-year Beacon Community Award is over next April.
Ensuring that sustainability has been a major focus of MyHealth’s work over the last year.