Utilizing Health IT to Connect the Dots for Better Healthcare

Author: Crystal Felker, RHIT – Database Coordinator, Southern Tier HealthLink

The picturesque and historical Lackawanna Train Station in downtown Binghamton, NY may seem like a quiet place where only memories of bustling passengers traveling to and from New York City reside. However, the station never truly retired from its role as a center for exchange but rather simply changed its style. Today, the vaulted ceilings, ornate architecture, and unique floors are home to Southern Tier HealthLink (STHL) where Health IT is the driving force behind a totally different type of traffic—electronic medical records.

Established with support from local stakeholders in 2005, Southern Tier HealthLink strives to “Connect the Dots for Better Healthcare” for both providers and patients in the Southern Tier. Our work at STHL over the past 8 years has significantly enhanced care coordination and contributed to improved patient care in our community. Currently, all our area hospitals are connected to STHL. For a region covering only 4,600 square miles, an astounding 64 million records exist in the STHL health information exchange (HIE) with an average of 1.9 million more records added each month. 146 organizations ranging across multiple healthcare disciplines, including long term care facilities, public health departments, and behavioral health organizations, utilize Southern Tier HealthLink’s services to obtain crucial health information for their patients. And those patients aren’t left out of the equations—over 25,000 patients have access to some of their health information housed in the HIE as well as a series of empowering tools through the unique STHL Patient Portal. By making the data available and laying down the appropriate pathways for information flow, STHL has enabled our healthcare community to get on track and get connected.

In fact, this availability of essential health information in times of urgency is what STHL really takes pride in. The STHL Web Portal plays a large role in the emergency departments of our hospitals. As Cindy Pulling, Lead Scribe at UHS Wilson Medical Center puts it:

“It’s cost effective. We can go into the database and we can pull up the information for the patient. We know when their labs have been done. We know their allergies. We know what’s wrong with them. And we can treat the patient immediately.”

Connections to the STHL HIE assist primary and specialty care practices by affording providers faster and more convenient access to information such as lab results and imaging. At Karen Banks-Lindner DO PLLC, a family medicine practice in Norwich, NY, obtaining test results can take quite some time. “With Southern Tier HealthLink it only takes a minute—it saves a lot of time,” claims Practice Manager Rick Lindner. “And for every 5 or 8 minutes of time you save, that’s more time you can spend with the patient.”

Whether it’s in the emergency room, for public health reasons, or simply a consultation visit, access to health information exchange contributes to an improved healthcare experience. In the months to come, as Southern Tier HealthLink eagerly completes our transition to the Statewide Health Information Network of New York (SHIN-NY), we fully expect those benefits to continue to grow. Through our partnership with the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), STHL will be able to offer even more information to our providers, especially for one of our currently troublesome patient groups: college students. With a high percentage of students hailing from areas in New York State outside of the Southern Tier, Binghamton University students create an obstacle for STHL: their primary care information is not available, and even though the health information from their visits that occur in the greater Binghamton area are accessible, once the student returns home their providers won’t have convenient access to that information. The SHIN-NY helps solve that problem by extending our local network and providing an on-ramp to the information highway for the State.

At the end of the day, if we here at STHL can use Health IT to help improve even just one patient’s experience, we’ve done our jobs. We continue to strive for Health IT innovation and use it to advance our role in enhancing the quality of healthcare for all.

Crystal Felker is the Database Coordinator for Southern Tier HealthLink (STHL), the regional health information organization for the Southern Tier. Crystal earned her degree and training as a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) at a local college, where she was first exposed to the concept of health information exchange (HIE). After witnessing a presentation by STHL Project Coordinator Kirsten Griffin, Crystal was inspired to join STHL’s mission for interoperability and advancing Health IT. As the Database Coordinator for STHL, she works to ensure data accuracy and proper patient record consolidation within the HIE. She also manages the STHL Patient Portal tool and coordinates organizational marketing efforts. In addition, Crystal gives back to the community and the college program she graduated from by participating as a mentor in a clinical affiliation program with future HIT graduates. To learn more about STHL and the benefits health information exchange, please visit www.sthlny.com.