Kentucky Collaboration Promotes Patient Portal Usage

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Data-driven health care is the focus of Kentucky’s Meaningful Use Workgroup, a committee of local health care organizations with a shared goal of supporting the statewide adoption of health information technology (HIT) across all care settings.

Formed in 2011, the Workgroup comprises the Department of Medicaid Services (DMS), the Kentucky Health Information Exchange (KHIE), atom Alliance Quality Innovation Network (QIN)-Quality Improvement Organization (QIO), and three regional extension centers (REC), including Kentucky REC, Tri-State REC, and Northeast Kentucky Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO).

“We knew something needed to be done on a large scale,” said Tammy Geltmaker, RN, Kentucky quality program director at Qsource, an atom Alliance partner. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)  Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program, also known as the Meaningful Use Program, defines three stages of progress in reaching meaningful use. In 2014, the Workgroup began to focus on Stage 2 milestones.  At first, members specifically targeted HIT and meaningful use. However, topics eventually expanded to include patient and family engagement, improving care transitions and the adoption of an online patient portal.

“Stage 1 was about getting data into a structured format,” said Margie Banse, quality data reporting manager at Qsource. “In Stage 2, we’re focused on challenges we’re facing. We’ve had to branch out and explore other topics related to the different work these organizations are doing.”

According to CMS, a provider must install a patient portal to meet the core measures of Stage 2 of meaningful use. Through the portal, patients can electronically schedule appointments, view lab results, receive reminders and exchange emails with their doctor. At least five percent of patients must be engaged with the portal for a practice to successfully meet this milestone. However, gaining patient buy-in has been a challenge for many providers.

Because of this, the Workgroup’s most recent efforts include identifying and resolving barriers to patients’ engagement with HIT, which, in turn, will improve care transitions.

“We’re finding it’s a generational thing, but access is also a challenge,” Banse said.  “For people who didn’t grow up in the computer age, it’s a struggle, and for people in rural communities, lack of access to high-speed Internet can be a barrier. So, it’s really about empowerment and supporting communication among patients, providers and health care settings.”

Recent Medicaid expansions mean that more providers will be pursuing EHR incentives, and more patients will be eligible for Medicaid services. By improving the quality of care through meaningful use, HIT could be vital to helping reduce health disparities among lower-income populations.

“The Workgroup’s success is rooted in the unique strengths each organization contributes. Each entity at the table has benefitted from someone else sitting there,” Banse said. “We are stronger and carry a lighter load if we work together.”

She noted how the Workgroup’s collaboration has made their jobs easier and helped the providers they work with.

“The biggest benefit is being aware of what each organization is working on,” Banse said. “It makes our QIN-QIO more efficient as an organization and helps us deliver better customer service to the practices we serve.”

Geltmaker credits the Workgroup with evolving its efforts in an impactful way, despite ongoing changes each organization faces. 

“QIOs are in a new performance period. RECs are in a different phase of funding,” she said. “But these organizations consistently find a way to make this Workgroup meaningful and sustainable. Together, we will continue to accomplish more.”