Tampa General Hospital offers direct care and co-management of complex cases, as well as second opinions. With more than 50% of patients as referrals, the ability to communicate out on these cases quickly and effectively has always been a challenge.
Now more than ever it’s critical that communications between hospital physicians and outside physicians and practices be timely and secure.
Healthcare IT News interviewed Dr. Nishit S. Patel, chief medical informatics officer at Tampa General, to discuss the communication challenges facing hospitals today and an IT tool he and his colleagues put to use to tackle the challenges.
Q: What were the struggles Tampa General faced in engaging community physicians across the Tampa Bay region?
A: We are fortunate to have a large number of terrific community physicians in small, medium and large practices in Tampa Bay, but that does create some unique challenges in how Tampa General Hospital can effectively communicate information about the care of shared patients back with those physicians and practices.
It is particularly challenging for time-sensitive communications such as hospital admissions, discharges and other transitions of care.
Given the fragmentation of EHR products in our community and varying preferences on how community physicians want to receive information – whether directly into their EHR, via a web portal or even fax – we needed to find a way to engage with physicians and practices in the manner they most preferred.
Q: How did you overcome these struggles?
A: We overcame many of these challenges by partnering with a company called careMESH, which provided us with a unique solution for this complex problem. They were able to provide Tampa General with both a platform that allowed us to deliver key clinical events and information back with our community partners, and also provided us with a comprehensive provider database that we used to update over half a million provider records within our EHR.
Additionally, most of these provider updates included direct addresses, which had historically been a large gap in our EHR external provider database.
Beyond the improved provider data, the platform also enabled us to offer flexibility to our community partners by allowing them to select how they wanted to receive admission, discharge and other transitions of care event notifications and associated key clinical information via CCD exchange.
About 60% of our community practices have chosen to receive this information in a fully electronic fashion via direct messaging or the web portal, while the other roughly 40% continue to opt for faxes.
Q: What were the impacts on community providers?
A: We have seen a great response from our community physicians and practices since we began to roll out this new service. Since launching in summer 2020, we have had more than 1,000 community physicians enroll and receive clinical communications via careMESH.
From many conversations with my colleagues in the community, they have expressed significant gratitude for the improvement in meaningful communication from Tampa General to their offices about shared patients.
Many of the primary care practices highlighted how timely hospital admission notifications helped them to better care for their patients. Additionally, many commented on how much they appreciate the ability to choose how they want to handle receipt of the information within the platform itself at a practice or individual physician level.
Q: What is the importance of having direct, secure communication across healthcare organizations?
A: All of us in healthcare recognize how critically important effective communication between different healthcare organizations is to deliver safe, high-quality and low-cost care. However, despite this shared view, we all struggle to quickly, easily and securely transmit data outside of our own EHRs.
In fact, the vast majority of healthcare communication still relies on antiquated fax technology, which is often unreliable and transmits data in an entirely analog and non-discrete manner.
By having the ability to move away from the fax machine toward 100% digital EHR-to-EHR transmission, I am optimistic that we can truly improve the care of our patients by improving care coordination, reducing duplication of costly studies and transmitting time-sensitive data to the entire treatment team (including those outside of the primary EHR/health system).