A teaching hospital in Pasadena, Calif., is ensuring that community physicians can easily access patient information from other local providers—with or without an EHR. 

Huntington Memorial Hospital is building a communitywide health information exchange (HIE) with a virtual patient record that will eventually allow more than 2,500 independent physicians in California’s San Gabriel Valley to securely collaborate and coordinate patient care. The HIE facilitates secure information exchange irrespective of the technology that the caregivers, hospital, nursing home, or other providers use.

Huntington decided to build the communitywide HIE back in 2009 to support improved patient care, greater efficiency through enhanced care coordination, and a better environment for physicians. The Pasadena market features a high cost of living but relatively low pay rates for physicians, says Rebecca Armato, executive director for physician and interoperability services, Huntington Memorial Hospital.

“We made a decision that we have to improve the financial viability of the practices in our marketplace, and this kind of technology supports that,” she says. “We knew we had to work in partnership with our physicians to provide care to our community, and we knew this was the kind of infrastructure needed to do that.”

Making It Easy for Physicians to Connect

Only 1,000 of the 2,500 physicians in the San Gabriel Valley are on Huntington’s medical staff, yet the hospital is “opening this up to all the physicians and connecting all of them,” says Rebecca Armato, executive director for physician and interoperability services, Huntington Memorial Hospital. “To improve the health of our community, all physicians providing patient care need to be connected.”

Currently about 500 physicians are connected to Huntington Health eConnect. By the end of 2013, Armato intends to have all physicians connected. Physicians who do not have an electronic health record (HER) system—or whose system does not accommodate information exchange—are able to access the HIE through a secure web portal. If a physician’s EHR does allow information exchange, Health eConnect pushes the information that the physician requests (for example, imaging reports or discharge summaries) from the hospital or other providers directly into that physician’s EHR.

 Huntington eConnect Exhibit

Seeking Physician Input

Although physicians have been quick to embrace Huntington Health eConnect, Armato says that is only because she and her team spent three months making presentations in their offices.

“That conversation had to happen. You can’t just make an announcement and then not go touch everybody,” she says. “You have to look them in the eye and tell them, ‘This is what we’re doing. We are trying to help you survive and improve the patients’ quality of care and experience, and we have got to do this together.’”

Huntington also recruited physicians to help select the HIE technology and helped coach them as they selected EHR technology that could leverage and connect to the HIE. “Electronic medical record and information exchange vendors tend to show the ‘wow’ features,” Armato says. “We educated physicians and their staffs to make sure they focused first on ensuring the access and exchange of information was efficient and effective before the bells and whistles came into play in the decision.”

Factoring the ROI

Armato says the cost of sending information to physicians via its direct exchange HIE is less than the cost of faxing and mailing the information—sometimes repeatedly because reports sometimes get lost in physician offices and are not available when the patient shows up for an appointment.

“We base-lined all of our costs and said, ‘You know what? This is a smarter way to do business,” she says. “So why would we make it a hurdle for physician offices to adopt this when this is our preferred method—and a more cost-effective method of getting information to them? Plus, the information is there where they need it, when they need it.”

Lola Butcher is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Missouri.

Interviewed for this article: Rebecca Armato is executive director for physician and interoperability services, Huntington Memorial Hospital, Pasadena, Calif. (rebecca.armato@huntingtonhospital.com).

This case study is excerpted from a longer feature, “Meaningful Information Exchange,” which will appear in the upcoming Spring 2013 issue of the Leadership magazine.