Sharp HealthCare's Bill Spooner: 'Robust interoperability is a competitive advantage'

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The importance of interoperability and patient matching is the focus of a new case study about San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare published Monday by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

According to the case study, Sharp--which consists of four acute-care hospitals, three specialty hospitals and two affiliated medical groups--is in a constant state of change due to a combination of new technology used and new relationships formed with other providers. Because of that, CIO Bill Spooner (pictured) says interoperability efforts should be "appreciated" more.

"In an era of frequent mergers, innovative provider affiliations, collaborative care arrangements and declining revenues, it is essential to view our patients across that entire care continuum," Spooner says. "Robust interoperability is a competitive advantage."

Sharp operates a master patient index department to handle patient matching and identity, according to the case study. Tommie Egbert, who supervises the department, says in the case study that he and his staff of 10 have helped to dramatically reduce duplicated patient records.

"When we first started the department, we were creating 18 duplicates a day across the whole system," Egbert says. "Now, we're doing about four duplications a month."

The patient-matching processes includes both manual processing--including reviewing driver's licenses and signatures--and the use of electronic tools like palm vein identification technology that can biometrically identify patients.

"It helps eliminate misidentification, and that helps quality," Sarah Harrington, manager of the master patient index at Sharp, said. "[I]f someone has had an MRI in one Sharp facility, a physician may not have to order another one if we can link the records. It saves cost for the patient, and cost for the overall system."

Last week, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT announced plans to launch a collaborative patient matching initiative to "identify common denominators and best practices" used by both private health systems and federal agencies. In a Health IT Buzz blog post, Lee Stevens, policy director of the state health information exchange program, explained that the initiative will focus on two objectives:

  • Identification of common attributes that achieve high positive match rates across disparate systems, which could include fields such as name, date of birth, address, etc.
  • Defining the most effective processes to support high positive patient matching rates that use the aforementioned attributes

To learn more:
- read the CHIME case study (.pdf)

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