Regenstrief Institute uses health IT to improve disability determination

J. Marc Overhage, MD

The Regenstrief Institute, recognized as a healthcare IT leader, has been awarded a contract to help the Social Security Administration and Indiana healthcare providers make disability case determinations faster and better.

Typically, acquiring medical information for an SSA disability claim involves numerous requests to multiple healthcare providers treating the individual seeking benefits — a process that can take weeks or even months. Physician offices, hospitals and other providers must gather the individual's recent medical information and submit it via fax or mail.

The Regenstrief Institute created and operates the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), a secure statewide health information exchange (HIE) that's used by providers to help improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care that their patients receive. Improving the disability determination process complements other functions of the INPC, including surveillance for influenza outbreaks and access to a patient's diverse medical records when providing emergency care.

"We will leverage the capability of the INPC to quickly and efficiently collect the information requested electronically by SSA, with the specific authorization of the person applying for disability benefits, and securely transfer it to the government so the disability decision process can be completed more rapidly," said Brian Dixon, MPA, project manager for Regenstrief's SSA contract. "This will make that process more efficient – both because it will be faster and because the medical data compiled will be more complete."

In addition, said Dixon, it will eliminate "the time and expense of going to many different providers, assembling the necessary records and filling out forms off the shoulders of patients," and will "decrease the need for providers to search for and send records manually."

To effectively make decisions regarding applications for disability, the SSA needs the same kind of medical information doctors utilize when making diagnoses and referral decisions. Healthcare providers in Indiana rely on the INPC to securely and privately share clinical data that is utilized daily to support healthcare services throughout Indiana.

"Facilitating the processing of patients' disability claims is another example of how healthcare providers throughout Indiana have worked together with the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana Health Information Exchange to ensure that their patients' healthcare information is used to enhance their care," said J. Marc Overhage, MD, director of medical informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, Regenstrief Professor of Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and president and CEOof the Indiana Health Information Exchange.

The SSA expects to receive more than 3.3 million disability benefits applications in fiscal year 2010 – a 27 percent increase over the 2008 fiscal year. Annually, more than 15 million requests for medical records are sent to healthcare providers.

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