The Health Collaborative: Unified data helps speed preventative and urgent care | IBM
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The Health Collaborative: Unified data helps speed preventative and urgent care


4 min read

Delivering trusted data to serve 9M people

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The United States is unique among industrialized nations for its decentralized healthcare system, a hybrid collection of public, nonprofit and private providers organized primarily around large hospital organizations and groups of corporate insurers. While data is usually consistent within a single hospital, the system doesn’t work as well in the wider community, where different standards determine how each provider will organize and access their healthcare data.

While dispersed systems can prove flexible by customizing approaches to local needs, operational fault lines become readily apparent when patients seek care outside a defined network. Siloed data can silo diagnosis and lead to poor health outcomes. When medical records reside in fragmented, often incompatible information systems, the picture of patient health can likewise fragment. If a patient visits one provider for one procedure, and another for a different issue, the records for those two consultations may — or may not — be reconciled, leading to compromised care quality. This is where The Health Collaborative focuses its attention.

Established in 2015 through a merger with the Greater Cincinnati Health Council and HealthBridge, The Health Collaborative is a nonprofit Health Information Exchange (HIE) organization providing medical data, informatics technologies and expertise to its members, the healthcare community of the Greater Cincinnati area. The group provides healthcare information support to thousands of providers that serve more than 9 million patients in the region and throughout the state of Ohio. Its solutions collect and organize the full range of healthcare information from confidential medical histories, including treatment plans; immunization records, medications and allergies; and imaging and laboratory results.

The data is rather inconsistent from hospital to hospital. It works well within that hospital, but at a community level it doesn’t.

Dwight Blubaugh, PhD
Senior Analyst, The Health Collaborative

“The data is rather inconsistent from hospital to hospital,” says Dwight Blubaugh, PhD, Senior Analyst, The Health Collaborative. “It works well within that hospital, but at a community level it doesn’t.” To organize the data of all its member stakeholders, The Health Collaborative worked with IBM to develop a data management system, a Master Patient Index (MPI) built on IBM InfoSphere Master Data Management. The solution aligns individual patient records into a single view of all critical data, ensuring a single source of trusted information. The system is the foundation for an information infrastructure that member providers enlist to inform diagnoses and shape treatment protocols. Whether the foundation of lifesaving treatments or the accuracy of patient medical records, data integrity forms the bedrock of healthcare best practice. By unifying the sprawling estate of data dispersed among the diverse constituents it serves, The Health Collaborative uses its data management framework to integrate disparate nodes into a unified healthcare network.

Among its vast network of constituents, two innovative member organizations networked by The Health Collaborative are Health Care Access Now (HCAN) and Ascend Innovations.


5 min read

Trusted data helps overcome healthcare inequality

The Health Collaborative Master Patient Index and its hb/notify capabilities offer additional benefits to its member companies. Member Health Care Access Now (HCAN) relies on The Health Collaborative to support its vulnerable client population.

In 2019, African American women in Hamilton County, Ohio suffered preterm deliveries at a rate 49% higher than the average of all other Ohio communities. Infant mortality rates were three times higher for African American families. The cause for many of these premature births or avoidable deaths? Lack of access to quality prenatal care. And a crucial contribution to this problem results from a deficit of trust in healthcare provision.

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Founded in 2009 as a community response to the escalating health crisis among vulnerable residents in Greater Cincinnati, Health Care Access Now (HCAN) developed an innovative program to bring trust into interactions with the community healthcare system. The organization focused specifically on members of the population who were more likely to experience inconsistent access to medical care, who faced an uphill struggle to access behavioral or specialized care, and who required greater support to manage chronic disease. Their constituents came mostly from a population of expectant mothers — more than 55% of their client base — or the elderly.

To increase community trust and access to care, HCAN developed a program to recruit community healthcare workers from among the same demographic they attempted to serve. Researchers recognized that patients would experience better outcomes if those providing care shared a deep sense of empathy with those they served. The organization employs a team of Certified Community Health Workers (C-CHW) who help address the social factors that affect health and who comprehend the obstacles patients face.

Clients make their way to HCAN through a variety of avenues: referrals from Medicaid health plans, clinicians and United Way 211. That many arrive through the encouragement of existing or previous clients attests to the program’s efficacy. Having points of contact who can empathize with their struggles helps clients trust enough to share their personal information and medical histories. “Sometimes it’s hard to break through to clients,” says Giacoma Telich, HCAN C-CHW.

“But I’ve been through a lot on my own, and I open up about my experiences. I share my stories and show my vulnerability. I know what it’s like not to have lights on.”

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For expectant mothers, HCAN provides a unique suite of services to ensure sound prenatal, delivery and post-natal care. To help patients navigate the daunting challenges of maintaining good health and well-being before, during and after delivery, C-CHWs must be able to contact clients in real time to provide assistance when they need it most. Being able to offer reliable services depends on having a trusted source of data, and like the C-CHW, always on, always ready.

“We rely on the information received from healthcare providers in order to do a good job for clients,” says Sarah Mills, CEO, Healthcare Access Now. “Having a partnership with The Health Collaborative provides us data we can trust, drawn from their Master Patient Index. Through our integration with their system, client alerts pop into the C-CHW case dashboard, enabling them to reach to clients quickly.”


4 min read

Coordinated data and AI mitigates healthcare crisis

In 2017, Montgomery County clocked more than 500 overdose deaths and was deemed the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. One contributing factor to the crisis is a lack of visibility into an individual’s medical treatment history. For example, prescriptions written by one physician may be invisible to another, potentially leading to addiction and lethal overdoses.

Recognizing that when a person is in crisis, speed-to-treatment is critical. The Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) desperately sought innovative strategies and timely solutions to empower sufferers to seek help. The ADAMHS teamed with Ascend Innovations, a data services and life science technology provider owned by three hospital networks in the Dayton, Ohio area — Premier Health, Kettering Health Network, and Dayton Children’s Hospital through the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association (GDAHA). Marty Larson, CEO of Ascend Innovations, made it his personal mission to better coordinate services capabilities.

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Ascend Innovations receives hospitalization alerts and standardized patient data collected and consolidated into a Master Patient Index (MPI) by its partner, The Health Collaborative. The MPI provides an overview of the patient’s admitting diagnosis, insights that help speed care and treatment recommendations for individuals facing opioid addiction. Augmenting the information with other data sources, Ascend Innovations’ system delivers critical information to ADAMHS regarding patients in crisis. As a result, ADAMHS professionals are equipped with a more complete view of the patient during the evaluation, risk assessment and recommendation processes. “I believe that the MPI is really the beginning of standardization in healthcare,” says Larson.

I believe that the MPI is really the beginning of standardization in healthcare.

Marty Larson
CEO, Ascend Innovations

Among Ascend Innovations’ most ambitious and innovative projects is GetHelpNow, a mobile app that uses data management resources to help patients access mental health and addiction treatment providers in Montgomery County, Ohio. The app, for use by individuals or healthcare professionals, enables the client to access the right treatment and facilities at the right time. Behind the scenes, the app is powered by a database with details on each provider in the region, updated in near-real time. Organizing information in four categories — 24/7 urgent services, treatment services, support services, and housing services — a person seeking help need only select a category to be directed to appropriate services. “We are making an impact through the data, through machine learning, through predictive modeling, and through working with agencies that are touching lives,” says Larson.


5 min read

Combatting COVID-19 with data

If crisis presents opportunity, then the COVID-19 pandemic is a real-time test case for addressing the healthcare system’s worst-case scenarios. Few healthcare emergencies in human history pose as many challenges as widespread outbreaks of disease. A pandemic places unimaginable stresses on the very foundations of healthcare systems, exposing their strengths and weaknesses. In the absence of vaccines or effective treatments, knowledge is key. The COVID-19 crisis has amplified the need to collect and maintain accurate medical information. Because the virus is novel, every datapoint collected from every afflicted patient — from testing to hospitalization — contributes to greater understanding of the disease.

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As the TriState region’s coordinator for The Greater Cincinnati Disaster Preparedness Coalition (DPC), and the sole Health Information Exchange (HIE) responsible for disaster response, The Health Collaborative occupies a unique role in supporting the DPC in its regional coordination and collaboration. Comprising 270 member hospitals and health systems, the DPC is an integrated command structure that integrates 16 teams of healthcare professionals from hospitals, emergency and medical services, emergency management, public health and related community organizations.

Our goal remains the same — extrapolate meaning from healthcare data that better supports individual health outcomes for our region.

Dwight Blubaugh, PhD
Senior Analyst, The Health Collaborative

“Our existing information systems enabled us to quickly develop a means to notify practice physicians and help them identify afflicted patients and others they may have exposed,” says Dwight Blubaugh, PhD, Senior Data Analyst, The Health Collaborative. “Using the MPI, we can help streamline information gathering and information reconciliation, confirming tests carried out by labs outside our patient registration system are linked to patient records.” The Health Collaborative uses its MPI to coordinate between testing facilities and physicians, to make certain providers are aware that a patient has tested positive, is self-isolating or has been hospitalized.

“Data is our DNA. Working with biostatisticians and correlating their information with ours, we are building a system that enables greater visibility into the particulars of the virus,” says Blubaugh. “In concert with the medical and scientific community, we are examining rates of transmission, information about immunity, geocoding for outbreak location, statistical spatial analysis of geographic transmission patterns, and validating whether the data we have gathered is providing a correct picture of the efficacy of our efforts.”

Though unwelcome, the COVID-19 crisis has delivered opportunity for The Health Collaborative to expand its technological capabilities to further serve the needs of the healthcare demands of the TriState region. Every new datapoint occasions a new question, driving new analyses. “Whether consolidating a patient’s medical records or analyzing aggregated data from patients in a single zip code,” says Dwight Blubaugh, “our goal remains the same — extrapolate meaning from healthcare data that better supports individual health outcomes for our region.”