Convention Q and A: Beacon Shining Light in the Inland Northwest

The healthcare industry is on a quest to discover and cultivate new methods that deliver the highest quality of care possible to patients everywhere—evidenced by the flurry of new regulations, innovative programs, and revised standards taking shape. Steps toward the future include getting practices crucial information quickly, and revising current processes to encompass the vision of population-based healthcare.

Beacon Community of the Inland Northwest (BCIN) is working to bring about these changes and more through 14 counties representing both rural and urban communities in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Led by Inland Northwest Health Services, BCIN is one of 17 participating health information exchange (HIE) organizations in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program.

BCIN is working to improve care coordination with connections to both the Washington and Idaho state health information exchanges as well as the Nationwide Health Information Network Exchange.

On Monday, October 1, Jac Davies, MS, MPH, director at BCIN, will present a session at the AHIMA Convention and Exhibit in Chicago, IL on how BCIN addressed the need for a strong health IT and information exchange infrastructure to support efforts related to care improvement, cost reduction, and user engagement. In the below Q and A, she discusses some of the goals and strategies of BCIN, as well the future impact burgeoning health information exchanges will have on healthcare.

What were the main goals in establishing the Beacon Community for the Inland Northwest health information exchange?

Davies: Our main goal was to assure consistent, high quality care for individuals with diabetes, wherever they receive that care. We cover a large, very rural geographic region, and we know that patients receive care from a wide variety and number of providers around that region. For the best management of chronic disease, the ability to share information between providers is critical. Even more important is assuring that those providers are using the best practices for those diseases..

Because we are focused on consistency and quality of care, we needed more than just the ability to exchange health information. We needed to provide common decision support tools that utilize data from the HIE to drive the desired best practices. We also needed to be able to measure results and to send quality reports to providers so they would know where they needed to improve.

What are some of the unique challenges and needs that must be met when developing an HIE infrastructure across urban and rural communities?

Davies: The adoption rate for electronic health record (EHR) systems in our BCIN region was very high before we began implementing our project, so we had a good starting point. However, we found when we started to implement the HIE that… developing interfaces and sharing data (between customized EHR systems) has been a real challenge.

The main difference between the rural and urban settings has been the complexity of the health care environment. In the rural settings, the practices know they have to work with each other and with urban specialists and hospitals, so they have been very eager to participate. The providers in the urban setting also know this. However, in the urban setting, there have been enormous changes due to mergers and acquisitions, particularly with hospitals buying physician offices. This has complicated the… (process).

We do know that participating practices are getting information much more quickly on key events such as hospital admissions and emergency department visits. We also know that participating practices are beginning to revise their workflows and processes to support more proactive, population-based healthcare. Patients will start seeing these changes over the next year.

How do you see the role of BCIN and other health information exchanges evolving over the next five years?

Davies: Not all HIEs are alike. Each has been implemented for different reasons and is evolving differently.

The BCIN is a community HIE, serving to link rural and urban providers whose patients move between communities, care settings, and delivery systems. We believe that the value of our community-based services derives not just from facilitating the sharing of data, but from transforming that data and leveraging it to improve care.

We can help coordinate care across settings and improve transitions in care. We can quickly push out new recommendations on best practices to decrease the amount of time it takes for new findings to be translated to practice. And we can provide common, consistent measures of the population’s health that… can be used by all the players in the healthcare system to promote quality improvement at the population level.

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