As Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey continued to devastate Houston and southeast Texas, Texas HIE leaders moved ahead to support healthcare leaders caring for Texans imperiled by the storm—and at the same time, demonstrated the core value of HIE
MARK HAGLAND OCTOBER 10, 2017
Hagland spoke with several southeast Texas HIE leaders to find what they’re working on right now. Developments continue to unfold live. Two organizations deeply involved in helping clinicians and patients in southeast Texas this week are Greater Houston Healthconnect (GHHC), the Houston-area HIE; and Healthcare Access San Antonio (HASA), the San Antonio-based HIE whose coverage area encompasses San Antonio and an expanding swath of central Texas, including the Austin and Dallas areas. San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas, are all welcoming residents of Houston and southeast Texas who are fleeing flood-ravaged parts of southeast Texas.
Meanwhile, within the HIE realm, one of the most fortuitous things related to the current disaster has been the fact that GHHC and HASA, several years ago, created a durable information exchange connection, so that patient records can be accessed through health information exchange with remote siting (Salt Lake City), thus protecting access to EHRs for patients in need. That came about because of a relationship between the two HIEs, explained Phil Beckett, who is the chief information officer at HASA. Back in the time period of 2011-2012, Becket was the chief technology officer at GHHC, and had developed a relationship with Gijs van Oordt, the CEO of HASA. “Gijs and I created a connection back then, in case anything like this [Hurricane Harvey] ever happened. And the [Austin-based] Texas Health Services Authority”—which helps to oversee and facilitate HIE development and governance across Texas—“had created a statewide hub that technically connected the Texas HIEs to each other. So HASA and GHHEC have been connected since 2015.”
All of that foundational work has suddenly become highly relevant, Beckett noted, as “We’ve got a lot of evacuees in San Antonio from Houston, and we are taking our information from HASA and coordinating with the GHHC team, to get access to records for individuals from Houston.” In fact, he reported, “So far, we’ve got 17,000 evacuees from Houston, and that number keeps growing. Not all of those patients will have [electronic health] records, and not all will need medical assistance. But you can imagine leaving your house in a crisis like this; you can imagine what will happen when someone comes to rescue you with a boat, and you grab your phone and wallet and go; you don’t have any medications with you or anything. So having a doctor be able to access that to refill your prescriptions, will be critical.”
This is also a situation in which the concept of the patient-centered data home™, which the SHIEC organization is promoting and encouraging, and which has been a topic of discussion at this conference, comes into play, Beckett said. “Just this morning, we were on a call that was sponsored by SHIEC, and were talking about the patient-centered data home, which provides a more accurate, precise way to share data. When we make use of this concept, it means that we’re storing a zip code list of zip codes that each HIE covers, and then if a patient shows up in one of our facilities with that zip code, we will send a notification with the home state of that patient, so that we’re connected across state lines with good demographics, since we don’t have single identifiers. That will help” in situations like this one with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, he said.
For his part, van Oordt told Healthcare Informatics, when asked about how all of this is playing out right now in real time in the face of Harvey, “A few thoughts come to mind since visiting shelters yesterday. A lot of the care being delivered right now,” he said, “is actually very acute—people are lined up in the hallways to visit physicians and nurses. These needs stem from physical issues related to evacuation, and also a lot of emotional trauma. And we also understand there will be long-term evacuations planned, where people with chronic conditions will need to be evacuated. And we can play a role in providing more aggregated and historical data at that time. I think we’re still very early on in this process, and a lot of that may unfold over a long time,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kelly Hoover Thompson, who was named SHIEC’s CEO just over a week ago, told Healthcare Informatics, “This is the ultimate example of HIE’s vital role and value to a community. It is how we support patient care, when a patient is facing some of their most critical and vulnerable life moments. This is why SHIEC exists, to take the greatest minds in HIE across the country, to make it work, and advance it, and educate people.”