Being able to communicate, connect, and transfer information is more critical now than ever.
OcuHub is a new cloud-based system that connects your office to the rest of the healthcare system.

Interoperability is critical to improving the eyecare business.

Since 2009, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), including the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), were signed into law, there has been a near feeding frenzy for American healthcare providers to adopt electronic health records (EHR). The principle driving force was and still is the incentives program by both Medicare and Medicaid for achieving “Meaningful Use” (MU) of “certified EHR technology.”

The law allocated nearly $29 billion in tax dollars to be spent to move the U.S. to an electronic, interconnected healthcare system.  The majority of the money was earmarked to be paid to each participating physician””up to $44,000 each. Beyond the incentives, we were told that EHR adoption would increase our efficiency in patient care, make our jobs easier, allow communications of information across all providers, and reduce wasted resources, saving the national health care system billions of dollars.

Now that many of us have adopted some form of EHR, we are looking back to see what we have actually gained. So, what have we actually gained? We know the goal””to create a system that allows information to flow in and out of each practice, breaking the silo effect and allowing us to serve our patients better. But ask your colleagues and no doubt you’ll hear that, to date, many of us have failed to reach our utopian destination of interoperability”¦the Promised Land, so to speak, of EHR capabilities.

We have seen in the news reports highlighting the failure of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Veterans Administration (VA) to achieve interoperability even after millions of tax dollars in programing and effort to do so. We have also seen the news reports showcasing the lack of ability of the state’s health information exchanges to achieve connectedness. We continue to read articles on catastrophic failures in care delivery due to lack of communications between providers. Most of our practices now have EHR systems that are collecting data, but we still don’t have anywhere to share it. Our practices are still a silo, only now the data is stored electronically, not on paper.

Remember the promise: sharing patient reports, sharing diagnosis, sharing images, coordinating schedules, sharing treatment plans, and medicine usage? Remember the promise of being able to communicate directly and securely with other providers electronically, easily? Remember the promise of coordinated care and referrals that utilized the data contained within your EHR without typing reports, faxing and emailing?

These assurances have yet to be delivered upon. However””and here’s the good news””these promises are possible. Coming online is a system that aims to be your connection to the health information exchange and delivers on the EHR promises we believed when we invested our money and time to convert to electronic health records. OcuHub is a new product that focuses on providing ECPs the tools needed to succeed in a shared healthcare environment. It is not an EHR, but rather a cloud-based system that connects your office to the rest of the healthcare system.

OcuHub is an electronic bridge for your information to reach outside the silo of your practice. There is no hardware to purchase. Even better, it works with the certified EHR system that you currently use in the office. At its core, it’s a communications tool which builds upon the federal government’s consolidated Continuance of Care Architecture (CCDA) critical to the new MU Stage 2 requirements. These new requirements create a single source of templates for the Continuity of Care Documents that every certified EHR is required to be able to produce.

OcuHub creates a web interface that captures the CCD from your EHR and combines it with a secure email function (required for Meaningful Use Stage 2) to allow you to send security information to others. Thus, you can send reports of finding to other primary care providers, consulting physicians, and referring surgeons. What is even more exciting is the ability to attach supporting documents, i.e., images, VF, PDFs, to the same email. Reports from other practitioners will come in via the same web interface. And, thanks to a partnership with Covisint, you can send information to those who are not OcuHub providers.

Lest this sound like an ad for the company, I highly suggest you look into it as OcuHub also delivers on another promise””increased coordination of care. Imagine seeing a patient that you decide needs to be seen by their primary care physician or another specialist. Through the web’s interface you can now directly schedule patients to other provider’s offices. You can directly create an email, attach the images and CCD report, and book the patient directly through the system. No more writing the name of the doctor, the phone number, and asking the patient to call. No more asking staff to stop what they are doing to call the office and attempt to schedule them in. You or your staff can do it with a couple of clicks of the computer. Appointment made, report sent all before the patient leaves your office.

In development, too, are associated “apps” that will combine the features of smartphone technology with the business operations of eyecare. Each app is designed to enhance communications with your patients, allow patient-directed appointment scheduling, generate surveys to hear about your patient’s experience, and use remote monitoring and medications adherence systems to help improve clinical care.

Finally, the promise of being able to communicate, connect, and transfer information is here! Connectivity of your practice to the greater healthcare delivery system is more critical now than ever. To not only survive but flourish in the new American healthcare system, we must be able to break down the silos of our individual practices. The ability to meet the federal requirements of secure communication as contained in Meaningful Use Stage 2, to not only your patients and other providers, is but only one part of the puzzle.

You must be connected to the greater system to be allowed to participate in the growing movement of Accountable Care Organization formation and thus to your patient base. Failure to be part of these new payer systems can result in the loss of your ability to access patients. It’s time to take the next step, to move forward to ensure your future success in the new healthcare system. It’s time to reach for the final piece of the puzzle.

Kenneth W. Eakland is a professor at Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, OR.


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