Health IT proves its prowess in New York

Western New York Beacon Community Project sees a 26 percent decrease in hospitalizations for diabetes
By Erin McCann
10:52 AM
Health information technology has proved its worth across western New York, specifically in the realm of diabetes care, the findings of a new report conclude.
The report, an effort of the Western New York Beacon Community Project, highlights that by utilizing electronic health records, care coordination and health information technology, the rate of hospitalizations for diabetic patients decreased 26 percent within a three-year period. 
Fifty-seven beacon practices used diabetes registries consistently, for at least a year. Out of those 57 practices, 50 percent reported that the overall percentage of uncontrolled diabetic patients was down 5 percent, and 25 percent of practices reported decreases of more than 10 percent in the number of uncontrolled diabetes cases. 
Early adopters in the Beacon network prevented three hospitalizations for every 100 diabetes patients in 2012, according to the report, representing a savings of some $600 per diabetic patient, per year. 
Overall, WNY Beacon has 85 registries implemented at independent practices, which include data on 40,000 diabetic patients. 
The Beacon's telemonitoring initiatives also deserve a mention, said HEALTHeLINK Executive Director Dan Porreca. The pilot enrolled more than 100 high-risk diabetic patients to use telemonitoring for improved care management.
"The objective was to try to identify these patients before they were hospitalized and put devices in their home to help their care coordinators and primary care physicians better manage their care," said Porreca, in an July interview with Healthcare IT News
Kenneth Wilson was one of these patients. He had been living with uncontrolled diabetes for more than 10 years, so when he enrolled and had to log into the program each day and measure his weight, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, he eventually saw some big changes.
Before being enrolled, his A1C levels – a number measuring average glucose control – ranged from 8 to 9 percent. Since participating in the pilot, Wilson has reported average A1C levels of 6.8. Similarly, before the pilot Wilson's morning blood sugar level ranged from 180 to 240 mg/dL. Now, the level stays typically around 109 mg/dL.
"The benefits were tremendous," Wilson said in a video commending the program. "They'd call every day ... saying, 'I heard you had some kind of issue today. You got this going on, or you got this going on. What's the story? What can we do to help you?'"
Although the report highlights marked success by WNY Beacon after it procured a $16.1 million grant from HHS to bolster health IT initiatives, there have been challenges along the way. 
For one, the Beacon didn’t hit the bull’s eye on every mark with regard to set goals. 
One of those goals originally set in 2010 was to demonstrate cost savings resulting from a 5 percent decrease in emergency department visits, 30-day readmission rates for specific diabetes patients and specific ambulatory care hospitalizations. 
A 2012 Beacon report actually found these readmissions and hospitalization measures increased overall, which concluded could represent "an artifact of coding trends" rather than a significant utilization increase. 
Another ongoing challenge for WNY Beacon, as Porreca said back in July, remains monetizing the value of the exchange. 
"We know anecdotally that what we're doing is making a difference because doctors tell us," he said, "because they had access to the patient's information through the patient query function, (or) they didn't order an unnecessary CT scan. Those are things that are hard to measure – what didn't happen as a result of the technology being in place."
Nevertheless, the numbers are impressive. The HEALTHeLINK clinical information exchange, which serves as the foundation for the Western New York Beacon Community, includes 47 sources of data coming from 27 hospitals, labs, home health agencies, long-term care facilities, Surescripts and radiology providers. 
The WNY Beacon now boasts a 70 percent e-prescribing rate, compared to 19 percent back in 2009. And now some 188,500 continuity of care documents have been transmitted for referrals from PCP to specialists, according to the report. 
To date, more than 550,000 patient consent forms granting their physician access to HIE data have been received. 
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