By BETHANY BUMP
CAPITAL REGION — The list of things we can do online grows exponentially with each passing year. We can pay our bills, stream television, listen to music and check out books from our local libraries.
Yet somehow, in 2014, we’re still getting most of our medical records in person, over the phone or via fax. That’s starting to change in pockets of the country where health care providers are building secure, online portals for patients to view, download and transmit their medical records.
In less than a week, residents of the Capital Region should be able to start accessing their medical records this way, thanks to the launch of Hixny’s Secure Patient Portal.
“The portal will empower patients to take a more proactive role in their health care,” said Hixny spokesman Eric Wohlleber.
The Latham-based health information exchange serving eastern New York has been building the portal for some time now in response to the changing health care landscape under the Affordable Care Act. Through federal incentive programs, providers are being urged to provide patients the ability to not just view, but download and transmit their medical records electronically.
Hixny is rolling out the portal in phases, starting with a select group of area hospitals that will sign interested patients up as they are admitted. Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh is already doing this. Next up are three hospitals in the greater Capital Region — Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville, Ellis Medicine in Schenectady and Saratoga Hospital — and two more distant facilities, Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, and Adirondack Health in Saranac Lake.
Nathan Littauer’s portal will go live within the next week. Patients can enroll in person, online or over the phone, depending on their preference.
“Our portal is actually live, but we have not started enrolling patients because we’re quality assuring the data flow and making sure everything is functioning correctly,” said Martin Brown, the vice president of information services and CIO. “We want patients to see good data in a good format that makes sense to them.”
Hixny now serves more than 719 entities in the Capital Region and Northern New York area, from hospitals, practices and long-term care providers to health homes, imaging centers and payers.
Individual providers here and there have launched online portals like this in recent years, but those who contract with Hixny to launch a portal will provide patients with their entire community health record.
“So up until now, these online portals have operated in silos if they operate at all,” said Wohlleber. “Hixny, because of our vast member network, will be able to provide a patient with records from their hospital, their primary care provider, their specialists, and so on, so long as they’re a member of our network. The goal is to build a complete picture.”
The true test will be whether moving medical records to an electronic format will make for a better-informed and eventually healthier population. Brown seems to think so, and a vast number of health care experts agree.
Not only is the online format more accessible and secure than paper records, it makes analyzing and understanding your own medical history a lot easier.
“The whole purpose of this is engagement,” said Brown. “Right now, a patient really can’t get to their records easily and when they do get them they’re not in a friendly format. I think this will open up the door to patients taking an interest in what their records say. Maybe they’ll find something that wasn’t recorded quite right or they’ll notice an allergy has disappeared. The other thing with this is, let’s say you have diabetes. That will be listed in the portal with a link to the CMS website, so you can just click a button and start reading more about your disease. I think this will make a big difference.”
Local providers can receive financial support from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services if they can demonstrate meaningful use of electronic health records. Nathan Littauer has to see at least 5 percent of discharges use the portal before Sept. 30 or it won’t receive an incentive payment, Brown said.
“Right now, there are incentive dollars to get this accomplished,” he said. “Eventually, there will be penalties.”
The following is some of the information available through Hixny’s Secure Patient Portal:
Admit and discharge date and location
Reason for hospitalization
Care team, including the attending physician of record as well as other providers of care
Procedures performed during admission
Current and past problem list
Current medication list and medication history
Current medication allergy list and medication allergy history
Vital signs at discharge
Laboratory test results (if made available at time of discharge)
Summary of care record for transitions of care or referrals to another provider
Care plan field(s), including goals and instructions
Discharge instructions for patient
Demographics maintained by hospital (sex, race, ethnicity, date of birth, preferred language)
This story originally appeared in The Daily Gazette.