Data Sharing Transforms the Way Physicians Practice; Let’s Make it More Accessible

Timi Leslie, Connecting for Better Health, and Gregg Smith-McCurdy, Hill Physicians Medical Group, describe how the California Data Exchange framework provides an opportunity to improve health care quality, access, and equity.

The following is a guest article by Timi Leslie, President at BluePath Health and Connecting for Better Health Coalition Leader, and Gregg Smith-McCurdy, CIO at Hill Physicians Medical Group

Hill Physicians Medical Group, the largest network of independent physicians in Northern California, considers obtaining discrete, contiguous patient health data one of the most important objectives and biggest challenges. The organization’s 5,000+ physicians, who are treating people across the socioeconomic spectrum, believe that comprehensive health information is crucial to deliver high-quality care for their patients.

Any patient should be able to see a physician or care provider without spending valuable time recounting their history. Hill Physicians’ CIO, Gregg Smith-McCurdy, firmly believes that consumers today expect more, and physicians without the ability to share data could be at a disadvantage.

Interoperability is Key

For Hill Physicians, signing the Data Sharing Agreement (DSA) was an easy first step in its commitment to industry compliance with the Data Exchange Framework (DxF) — the first-ever data sharing agreement in California. It will require most health care providers in the state to share and exchange valuable patient data in a safe and secure manner by January 31, 2024, with the goal to improve patient outcomes.

At BluePath Health and its Connecting for Better Health coalition, president Timi Leslie partners with government agencies, community-based organizations, providers, and payers to transform health and social outcomes for all Californians by advancing safe data sharing, among other initiatives.

A lot of work remains to make data sharing a reality. But Leslie believes California has come a long way in improving the interoperability that makes a new standard of data access possible, especially with the new mandates in the DxF.

The DxF: A Path to Better Care 

While Smith-McCurdy and Leslie come from very different backgrounds, they share a fervent hope that all health and social service organizations will embrace the opportunities provided by the DxF and help move quality patient care forward.

For Hill Physicians, participating in the DxF was an obvious choice because they value and strive to acquire accurate clinical data to help their physicians make the right decisions for patients, improve the health of their communities, and coordinate with other care partners.

Access to discrete data is at the core of the DxF. With its implementation, the data aggregation will partly be done for the physician group, which allows physicians to get to patients sooner and cut down on administrative time. The Hill Physicians team will be able to better manage payer requirements related to care gaps and report on their HEDIS measures.

Today, almost every health system uses an electronic health record (EHR) for patient or client reporting measures — it’s time to require these systems to be connected.

Better Education is Needed

As with any technology adoption, there will be challenges. Some of the biggest reasons providers may be reluctant to jump on the DxF bandwagon are complexity and cost. However, there are educational and supportive resources, and Smith-McCurdy believes that as long as the framework is upheld by everyone across the health care and social services landscape, its benefits will far outweigh the challenges.

After all, the success of the DxF ultimately depends on everyone who provides health and social services in California to participate.

Inaction is Hurting Our Most Vulnerable

Through Leslie’s work at BluePath Health and Connecting for Better Health, she is seeing both resistance to and unawareness of what the DxF is designed to do and the value it provides. Only a small percentage of eligible entities have signed up, and she is concerned health care leaders have lost sight of what is important.

Critiques about various technology platforms, perceived redundancies, maxed-out health care systems, and a burnt-out workforce are plentiful. However, according to Leslie, the signal many are missing in this noise is that with every day health care entities delay sharing critical information across networks, they are harming California residents, including the approximately 13 million people who rely on Medi-Cal.

By supporting and joining the DxF, care teams will be able to improve the quality of care and coordinate essential services that rely on access to accurate information.

Wider Participation is Crucial to Success

Leaders like Hill Physicians are innovative thinkers that advocate for quality of and access to care. They will more readily be able to realize the fruit of their labor when the broader industry embraces a similar mindset — promoting data sharing across systems to improve consumer health.

Health information has been collected digitally for four decades, but implementing accessible, longitudinal health records has yet to become a reality outside of integrated delivery systems. The DxF may have room for improvement, but it’s a necessary step to achieve the standard of care that is vital to the future.

At a minimum, the information on which providers and experts base life-saving decisions should be accessible, accurate, and contiguous. Without it, those who delay interoperability are effectively tying the hands of the people who are working hardest to help underserved populations. Leslie sees resistance to the DxF as willful adherence to and acceptance of substandard care.

The Time for Collective Action is Now

The DxF provides a unique opportunity to exchange valuable health information in a secure, equitable, and affordable manner that hasn’t been possible before. Whether you’re a health system, social service provider, physician, or other health care entity, having access to the critical health data you need — when and where you need it — is a necessary step towards up-leveling our standard of care, better supporting our communities and ultimately saving more lives. Smith-McCurdy and Leslie urge California providers and entities to use the resources available, take action, and get involved.

More data sharing leaders are needed to successfully drive patient health forward. Until this happens, “Healthy California for All” will remain a pipe dream.


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