The north country is often thought of as the remote, frozen north, slow to adopt national trends, whether in culture or technology. But in one important way were far ahead of much of the country, including urban centers. And its a way you might not expect: the trend toward leveraging information technology to improve health care.
The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization is celebrating National Health Information Technology Week this week. In light of that, we want to highlight some of our regions remarkable achievements in this field and explain what they mean for you, the patient, your health and the health of our community.
Our organization has invested $13.4 million to advance health information technology in this region to support health care providers as they aim to better coordinate your care. What does coordination mean? In the old days, a patient had one doctor who did it all. Modern-day health care involves a whole team of physicians with niche specialties. These teams need to work together and communicate effectively to provide the best possible care.
That hasnt always been the case, but information technology (IT) is making inroads to improve medical team collaboration, through tools like electronic health records and health information exchanges the infrastructure that allows patient records to be shared efficiently across the provider continuum.
Thanks to major, grant-funded projects completed over the past two years and hard work and collaboration between our partner health-care institutions and practices our region has both electronic records and a health information exchange, called HealtheConnections.
Care coordination facilitated by health IT brings all of a patients information back to the primary care office, returning primary care to its historic and crucial role as the quarterback of a patients total care. One doctor has a complete picture of a patients health and treatment and its the doctor who knows you best, your primary care physician.
You are relieved of the need to request and carry records from one office to another, and all of your care providers receive more accurate, thorough and up-to-date information about your condition and treatment, enabling them to make the best-informed decisions Your health care provider likely has asked or will ask you to sign a consent form to be able to access your electronic health records that are available over the health information exchange. Please give your consent, as better information will lead to better care for you and your family.
You can be assured that your personal health information is secure and private. Unlike with online banking, there are criminal penalties for breaches of security involving legally protected health information. Your health care provider and his or her supporting IT professionals take the security and privacy of your records very seriously.
Similar to online banking, all patient information is encrypted and all access to records is audited. Backup systems ensure reliable access to providers who need it, and encryption prevents access by unauthorized personnel.
This is health ITs present. So what does the future hold? Soon, you will begin to see the benefits of health IT more directly through electronic tools we call patient portals. As with online banking, patient portals provide a convenient way for patients and family members to stay informed about and better coordinate their health care.
For example, soon, you will be able to go to your patient portal to check lab results as soon as they are posted, rather than waiting for a call from a physicians office. Normally, medical offices only call if the results are worrisome. With a patient portal, you will be able to see your lab results, whatever they are, and gain the peace of mind that comes with that knowledge.
Relatives who manage health information and medical treatment for a loved one will also benefit enormously from patient portals. Medications and dosages will be available at any time through the portal, as will any important discharge information from a hospital or doctors instructions after an appointment.
Greater information will empower patients as it is currently empowering physicians to make the best choices in a timely manner.
With our latest grant, the community will benefit from a nearly $6 million investment in telemedicine, analysis of our regions health care quality and a team to better manage the transition from hospital stays to primary care. All of these developments hold enormous promise for improving the health of north country patients and our communities.
The writer is health information technology program manager for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization.