Glendale hospitals look to cooperation

Glendale's three hospitals might be competitors, but they're also looking into a cooperative effort to make sure that no matter where their patients are treated in the community, their information follows them.

The Glendale Healthier Community Coalition is looking into the establishment of a health information exchange in Glendale.

An exchange is a technical framework that would share patients' electronic medical records among healthcare providers.

Bruce Nelson, director of community services at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, said the hospital is surveying the interest levels of coalition members and if interest is there, the planning process would begin.

Because state-wide efforts to establish information exchanges have failed, it's up to the local community to build a system if one is wanted, Nelson said.

The possibility of creating an exchange system was discussed at a meeting of the coalition —which includes hospitals and health-care providers throughout the city — late last month.

Nelson said that because 70% of patients admitted to Glendale Adventist come in through the emergency room, having access to shared health information would be a major help.

"If they haven't been a patient at our hospital before, they've been a patient somewhere else," Nelson said. "We have to start from scratch. That is expensive and time-consuming."

Nancy Seck, director of the quality management program at Glendale Memorial Hospital, said that sharing information would help patients as well as hospitals.

"Sometimes patients come to our ER and they're not able to tell us their history. They're not able to tell us what medications they're on and because of that, the doctors are flying blind," she said. "The more information doctors have to address your care, the safer the care is."

Seck said that an exchange would also help track hospital readmissions by allowing, for example, Glendale Memorial to know when one of its patients is later admitted at Glendale Adventist or Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Once established, an exchange program could be expanded to share important health information not just with hospitals and doctors' offices, but with community health providers such as American Diabetes Assn. programs, Ascencia homeless services and Glendale Healthy Kids.

Judy McCurdy, vice president of patient care services at Verdugo Hills Hospital, said the hospital would participate in discussions, but establishing a health information exchange would present major challenges.

"It's very complex, and something that requires a tremendous amount of investment, both hardware and software," she said.

Nelson said that the cost would likely be in the millions of dollars, and he and Seck both said that a huge challenge would be ensuring patient privacy and finding a way to obtain patient permission before sharing records.

Ultimately, however, Glendale's health providers will need to find a way to cooperate, Seck said, in order to provide the best care — and to meet the standards being imposed by the federal government through the Affordable Care Act.

"We're receiving money from [The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] for our patients to prevent rehospitalization as a community, not as individual hospitals," Seck said. "The three hospitals … we all three have different ownerships, so we put aside all that competition concept when it's right for the patients."

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