Connection aims to boost care in Florida

By Kate Spies
09:22 AM

SARASOTA, FL  -  Think Seabiscuit or Secretariat for Florida's healthcare IT coordination.

The recent agreement between key Sarasota providers to join HIE Networks' Florida Health Data Network (FHDN) "will provide real utility out of the gate" for public and private providers, said Allen Byington, CEO of HIE Networks.

The Sarasota County Medical Society consists of nearly 500 physicians and multiple independent provider groups. It joins Sarasota Memorial Hospital, an 806-bed regional medical center, and First Physicians Group, a medical group practice of 50 physicians, in linking to the FHDN and HIE Networks to expand medical communication in the state.

 "The decision to join HIE Networks and the FHDN was made by multiple healthcare providers in our community and is aimed at making our community a better place to deliver and receive healthcare," said Robert Knego, MD, immediate past president of the Sarasota County Medical Society and a practicing neurosurgeon.

Once the providers are connected, Byington sees a clear first step: synchronizing the care provided between them to focus on and improve the outcome of patient treatment. "Once connected the initial use case is to improve care coordination between treating providers," he said. "Providers will have the ability to exchange records using secure messaging and referral management."

These electronic orders are linked to work queues and tracking notifications, thus helping staff streamline communication management, and "creating a more efficient treatment workflow," he said. "They will also be able to access patient records from other treating provider EMR systems across the community as those systems are interfaced to the FHDN."

Knego said the Sarasota community considered several providers to determine the appropriate HIE solution before settling with HIE Networks.

The FDHN is a statewide, cloud-based network and was implemented in 2011. It originally held records for nearly one million Florida patients, about 5 percent of the state population.

Knego said he and his colleagues liked the fact that the FDHN had already been established and integrated across provider groups in other areas of the state.

"HIE Networks was the best fit to help us accomplish our goal of keeping HIE local and allowing providers to maintain autonomy from mandated directives," he said. "Additionally, the fact that the FHDN has other member communities in production allows us to leverage their lessons learned and help our community accelerate the benefits of HIE."

Indeed, FHDN has made ripples across the state as a private HIE, and it's now joining Sarasota Memorial Hospital, a public organization. Byington says the bridge between public and private healthcare in Florida, however, is an established one.

"Of the nearly 64,000 hospital beds in Florida, the public sector accounts for about 41,000 of them with most of the state's physicians coming from the private sector so the bridge has long existed," he said.

Byington, then, is looking beyond exchange expansion as simply a method of private/public bridge construction. He sees agreements like the one between Sarasota providers and the FHDN as steps towards supporting the real driver behind HIE: the patient. Exchange focus should be on improving care coordination between all providers, be those public or private.

"Improved information sharing leads to improved care coordination by providers," he said, "which translates to better more efficient care, which translates to better outcomes for patients."

"Robust HIE does require significant collaboration between hospitals, physicians and other providers regardless of tax status," he said. So with this collaboration, he sees Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Sarasota physicians gaining greater coordination and sustainability and, ultimately, fortifying patient treatment in Florida  -  right from the starting gate.