Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, on March 29th announced that 15 healthcare providers and networks have received $17.4 million in contract awards to provide electronic medical records to the agency. These electronic medical records, which will be sent through the Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN), will significantly shorten the time it takes to make a disability decision and will improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of the disability program.
“Using health information technology will improve our disability programs and provide better service to the public,” Commissioner Astrue said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in disability applications. To process them, the agency sends more than 15 million requests annually for medical records to healthcare providers. This largely paper-bound workload is generally the most time-consuming part of the disability decision process. The use of health IT will dramatically improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of this process, reducing the cost of making a disability decision for both the medical community and the American taxpayer.”
The contract awards are funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They will require awardees, with a patient’s authorization, to send Social Security electronic medical records through the NHIN. The NHIN, a safe and secure method for receiving access to electronic medical records over the Internet, is an initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services supported by multiple government agencies and private sector entities.
For the last year, Social Security has been successfully testing health IT to obtain electronic medical records. Disability applications processed with electronic medical records from the test sites in Massachusetts and Virginia have significantly reduced processing times. Some decisions are now made in days, instead of weeks or months. Social Security expects to receive more than 3.3 million applications in fiscal year (FY) 2010, a 27 percent increase over FY 2008.
Contracts were awarded to the following organizations:
Cal RHIO, San Francisco, CA - $1,625,000
CareSpark, Kingsport, TN - $1,363,000
Center for Healthy Communities, Wright State University, Healthlink, Dayton, OH - $999,000
Central Virginia Health Network/MedVirginia, Richmond, VA - $1,139,000
Community Health Information Collaborative (CHIC), Duluth, MN - $977,000
Douglas County Individual Practice Association, Roseburg, OR - $502,000
EHR Doctors Inc., Pompano Beach, FL - $1,000,000
HealthBridge, Cincinnati, OH - $1,400,000
Lovelace Clinic Foundation (LCF), Albuquerque, NM - $1,083,000
Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, WI - $998,000
Memorial Hospital Foundation & Memorial Hospital of Gulfport Foundation, Inc., Gulfport, MS - $1,100,000
Oregon Community Health Information Network (OCHIN), Portland, OR - $284,000
Regenstrief Institute, Inc, Indianapolis, IN - $350,000
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Reston, VA - $1,587,000
Southeastern Michigan Health Association, Detroit, MI - $2,988,000
The Regenstrief Institute will use its Recovery Act contract to help the U.S. Social Security Administration and Indiana healthcare providers shorten and improve the process of making disability case determinations through automation. Work is scheduled to begin March 31.
The process of acquiring medical information for an SSA disability claim involves numerous requests to multiple healthcare providers treating the individual seeking disability benefits. This process can take weeks or even months following an application for benefits. Physician offices, hospitals and other health care providers must gather the individual’s recent medical information and submit it via fax or U.S. mail.
Regenstrief, an international leader in heath information technology, created and operates the Indiana Network for Patient Care (INPC), a secure statewide health information exchange that providers use to help improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care that their patients receive. Improving the disability determination process complements other functions of the INPC, including surveillance for influenza outbreaks and access to a patient’s diverse medical records when providing emergency care.
“We will leverage the capability of the INPC to quickly and efficiently collect the information requested electronically by SSA, with the specific authorization of the person applying for disability benefits, and securely transfer it to the government so the disability decision process can be completed more rapidly. This will make that process more efficient – both because it will be faster and also because the medical data compiled will be more complete. It also will take the time and expense of going to many different providers, assembling the necessary records and filling out forms off the shoulders of patients and decrease the need for providers to search for and send records manually,” said Brian Dixon, MPA, project manager for Regenstrief’s SSA contract.
To effectively make decisions regarding applications for disability, the SSA needs the same kind of medical information that physicians utilize when making diagnoses, treatment, and referral decisions. Healthcare providers in Indiana rely on the INPC to securely and privately share clinical data which is utilized daily to support healthcare services throughout Indiana.
“Facilitating the processing of patients’ disability claims is another example of how healthcare providers throughout Indiana have worked together with the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana Health Information Exchange to ensure that their patients’ healthcare information is used to enhance their care,” said J. Marc Overhage, M.D., Ph.D., director of medical informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, Regenstrief Professor of Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and president and C.E.O. of the Indiana Health Information Exchange.
Disability benefits determination is a large-scale process. The SSA expects to receive more than 3.3 million disability benefits applications in fiscal year 2010, a 27 percent increase over the 2008 fiscal year. Annually, more than 15 million requests for medical records are sent to healthcare providers.
The Regenstrief Institute has been an international leader in the development, implementation and evaluation of health information technology and health information standards for over three decades. Regenstrief investigators are leaders in the development of clinical data standards and health care system interoperability. The institute is located on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Indianapolis is the most healthcare wired metropolitan area in the country.