Western North Carolina Data Link Celebrates 6 Years of Improved Patient Outcomes

WNC Data Link, based in Asheville, N.C. celebrates its 6th anniversary of sharing data through the MEDSEEK-powered health information exchange (HIE) this year, which makes it one of the most mature health information exchanges in the nation, and the system continues to improve care coordination and patient outcomes and reduce costs to both patients and providers by mitigating the number of duplicate tests and procedures. Established in 2006, WNC Data Link is a regional health information exchange providing a secure and efficient exchange of patient information among 16 western North Carolina participating hospitals. The HIE, the first in North Carolina, is a federated model that links providers to clinical data using electronic health records from a variety of systems. It accesses the various databases and presents physicians a unified view of the latest, most accurate clinical data, securely and at the point of service, regardless of where the patient may have been treated last. With access to the most accurate and complete patient records at the point of care, physicians can immediately make more informed treatment decisions. And because WNC Data Link informs caregivers of test results and labs ordered by any physician in the region, treatment efficiency improves while reducing duplicate tests and lowering the cost of care. “The real value in Data Link comes from those patients that present to the Emergency Department that were recently seen in another regional ED or hospitalized in another facility,” said Jason Hunt, MD, Emergency Medicine, Mission Hospital. “The ability to immediately access results of radiology studies, labs, and even discharge summaries often eliminates the need to repeat these tests again at our facility. This saves the patient time, money, and in the case of radiology studies, can significantly reduce unnecessary exposure to radiation.” An increased number of physicians used WNC Data Link in 2010, and used it more frequently too. Utilization increased by 20 percent from 2010 to 2011, as reflected in both increasing numbers of average users per month and average logins per month. Increased demand, together with the availability of enhanced technology, led WNC Data Link to begin the process of upgrading. The first major upgrade of the system since its inception in 2006, the project will provide greater capacity for growth, more reliable operations, stronger security and an enhanced user interface. The updated clinical portal will enable both hospital-based and community physicians to access a single view of a patient’s medical record, which combines information from patients’ visits to the other 16 hospitals and Ashville’s Charles George VA Medical Center. This will provide greater accuracy when diagnosing patients and prevent repeated costly tests that may have been performed at an earlier visit to another facility. WNC Data Link connects with Asheville’s Charles George VA Medical Center through the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN) using the CONNECT Gateway of the NC Health Information and Communication Alliance (NCHICA). The connection allows the secure exchange of health information for over 9,000 shared patients between the VA and 16 member hospitals in the WNC Data Link. WNC Data Link is one of only a few HIEs in the country, and the only one in North Carolina, selected to connect to the NwHIN through participation in the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record pilot program. The updates to WNC Data Link also include improved reporting tools, including a new report that enables hospitals to better track, manage and reduce patient readmissions across the network, collaborate with other organizations to improve hospital procedures and decrease readmissions. The updated portal provides an improved user interface that enables providers to find information faster, increasing physician adoption and improving safety and outcomes. “Data Link is imperative! My job would be almost impossible without it,” said Teresa Collins, RN, Team Leader and Care Manager, Community Care of Western North Carolina. “There would be no other way to access all that information. CCWNC care managers are, oftentimes, the ones giving the discharge summaries to the PCPs and specialists. No one else has the whole picture. A lot of the time, patients don’t even have their own information. Data Link gets everybody in the same loop. It’s a highly beneficial tool for CCWNC.” WNC Data Link has also expanded to the ambulatory setting, specifically to primary care providers, to support comprehensive, preventive and primary care and improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of treatment, especially for patients with chronic diseases. WNC Data Link also plans to incorporate specialty providers in the continued expansion to the ambulatory setting. The ongoing growth of WNC Data Link was made possible by a multi-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and The Duke Endowment. The upgrades provide WNC Data Link a powerful platform that meets the ever-changing technological demands of healthcare delivery while the ability to adapt and grow will ensure WNC Data Link will continue to be an important healthcare tool in the western North Carolina region. “MEDSEEK is proud to be a part of that WNC Data Link’s continued success,” said Brad Hawkins, MEDSEEK Vice President of Clinical Experience. “With the focus of WNC Health Network on Triple Aim and population health management, and the improved outcomes and reduced costs facilitated by Data Link, the changing landscape of health care in the US will be championed by leaders such as WNC Health Network.”