There are countless examples of how seamless data exchange can benefit Californians.
The Women, Infants and Children program – better known as WIC – is one of them, providing a strong case for how interoperable Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) can help get more eligible parents and children into a program that provides valuable services.
Karen Farley, Director of the California WIC Association, and Linnea Sallack, WIC Consultant, recently shared with the Connecting for Better Health Coalition how California’s program is learning about and promoting linkages to Health Information Exchanges to provide benefits and better outreach to eligible but unenrolled WIC recipients.
WIC is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program, managed by the California Department of Public Health, that receives no state funding. In California, WIC has 84 local agencies that provide benefits.
There are about 4,000 stores, as well as a growing number of farmers, that can provide WIC foods to participants. Meanwhile, there are 600 WIC clinics and more than 3,000 staff that are highly trained in nutrition, lactation and motivational interviewing who have expansive language and cultural capacity and live in the communities where they work.
According to the California WIC Association, almost half of all infants born in the state in 2018 were certified by WIC in their first year. As of September 2020, nearly 950,000 individuals participated in the program. In 2017, 61% of eligible individuals were participating in the California WIC Program.
Most WIC programs are administered locally through Federally Qualified Health Centers, county health departments and non-profit agencies, according to Farley and Sallack. Currently, the use of technology throughout the state runs the gamut, Farley and Sallack said, from pencil and paper to countywide HIEs.
But they have learned that improved linkages to HIEs and use of technology leads to more opportunities. Streamlining and linkages increase referrals and WIC enrollments, as well as improve retention in the program. And connectedness and communication improve care.
For instance, linkages make it easier to identify WIC participants from different agencies with special needs such as infants who need therapeutic formula or women who need lactation support.
“While there are WIC agencies with electronic forms of data exchange, there are many that aren’t set up to do that, especially WIC agencies that are embedded in nonprofit organizations where their mission is not providing healthcare services,” Sallack said. “We’re working to share the existing models that we’ve learned about and to support other WIC agencies in adopting those models.”
Some WIC agencies, particularly those working with public health agencies, have access to electronic health records, while others do not. “All of the agencies that have access to EHR raved about how much it helped in streamlining the certification process,” she said.
For those agencies that have linkages to health information exchanges, it “really could be a gold mine in terms of making it easier to both enroll families that are referred to WIC but also to providing some opportunities for some data matching between WIC and the HIE to do targeted outreach to people that aren’t enrolled in the WIC program.”