HealthlinkNY, a nonprofit that operates a health information exchange utilized by many Hudson Valley health care providers, will form a strategic partnership with another nonprofit exchange operator to expand its coverage of the state.Binghamton-based HealthlinkNY announced Sept. 27 that it would team up with Syracuse-based HealtheConnections. The two nonprofits operate health information exchanges that together cover more than 40 percent of the state.
The health care information exchanges allow health care providers such as hospitals, laboratories and doctors’ offices to share patient records across a regional platform. The health records are not publicly accessible, care providers can only access a patient’s record after receiving the patient’s consent.
The state Department of Health oversees and funds eight separate nonprofit entities that are each building and managing a “network-within-a-network” for patient records in separate regions of the state. The state’s goal is to expand the use of each regional network and have it feed into a statewide network that connects them all, known as SHIN-NY, short for the Statewide Health Information Network of New York. As of 2018, SHIN-NY connected 98 percent of hospitals in New York, along with more 80,000 medical providers.
The state hopes the program will improve patient outcomes and cut costs by allowing care providers easy access to crucial patient records on demand.
HealthlinkNY’s exchange operates in the southern tier and Hudson Valley counties from Steuben in the west to Westchester in southeast. HealtheConnections’ regional presence includes 11 counties in central and northern New York.
The two organizations said the partnership was inspired in part by the state Department of Health’s initiative to increase the use of regional health information exchanges and SHIN-NY.
“HealtheConnections and HealthlinkNY have a shared vision of using health data to create healthier communities, improve health care delivery and deliver value to providers,” said Rob Hack, president and CEO of HealtheConnections. “This type of progress can only be achieved through enhanced collaboration and looking beyond the status quo.”
Staci Romeo, executive director of HealthlinkNY, said the nonprofit chose HealtheConnections as a partner for its strong technological platform and the quality of its services and customer engagement.
While HealthlinkNY said it started the search for a strategic partner in 2017, the announcement came just one week after HealthlinkNY pushed back against plans from a competitor to expand into its territory. The Albany-based nonprofit Hixny, which previously focused its health information exchange in the Capital region and parts north to the Canadian border, said Sept. 16 that it would offer its exchange to health care providers in the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier.
“The success of the SHIN-NY hinges on meeting the needs of providers based on complete, accurate and up-to-date data,” read a statement from Hixny CEO Mark McKinney. “At Hixny we’ve demonstrated the effectiveness of our model — and want to do the same for the providers and patients in our neighboring regions.”
HealthlinkNY officials pushed back against the move, particularly an assertion in the press release from Hixny that the Hudson Valley and southern tier have “historically lagged in connecting providers to one another and collecting patient consent.”
Romeo said in a statement two days later that Hixny’s claims were “unfounded and sound like a case of sour grapes after being passed over during our search for a strategic partner.” She cited HealthlinkNY’s 35 hospitals in the Hudson Valley and Catskill region, as well as 1,207 sites.
“The truth is that an unnecessary expansion into this service area compromises the effectiveness of the Health Information Exchange,” Romeo said.
HealthlinkNY and HealtheConnections will together operate in a service area that covers 24 counties and connect all of the region’s 66 hospitals, about a quarter of all hospitals in New York.
HealthlinkNY officials said the company will begin to migrate its current health information exchange interface to the HealtheConnections platform early next year. The new platform, HealthlinkNY says, will allow users to be able to further filter data, set up advanced alerts and results routing and have access to more databases, such as those from the New York State Immunization Information System, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense.