Under cover of the pandemic, OHS rushes controversial medical record exchange implementation

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While most healthcare stakeholders and most of state government is focusing unprecedented efforts on protecting Connecticut from COVID-19, the Office of Health Strategy (OHS) continues its rush to implement a controversial plan to build their own Health Information Exchange (HIE). The rush is happening over objections from many stakeholder groups that they will need to succeed. The Connecticut Hospital Association sent a letter April 7th to OHS and DSS noting that because hospitals have dedicated “100% of their clinical, operational and financial resources to their response to the pandemic” they have not been able to participate in HIE planning for the future. Connecticut’s hospitals and doctors are required by law to participate in the new HIE once it is running. The letter continues, “Therefore, we request that you pause, indefinitely, all current activity in planning for the HIE.” CHA also offers that there are better options than yet another HIE for health IT funding for the future including strengthening Connecticut providers’ infrastructure for telehealth, allowing continuity and improved access to care during the pandemic and after, and to support small practices without enough resources to fully engage in health information technology.

These concerns echo concerns by advocates who are also concerned about the hidden process to protect privacy rights, inconsistent policies, and OHS’s plans to sell access to identifiable patient data through the HIE to insurers and ACOs. Insurers and ACOs make more money by lowering spending on patient care. Advocates are concerned that insurer and ACO access to personal medical records could result in discrimination, denying needed care, and dumping expensive patients, as has happened in other states.

OHS’s planned HIE connector will allow access by insurers and ACOs into all the state’s HIEs that now, as a matter of principle, do not sell the records entrusted to them. Some feel very strongly that selling data violates their trusted relationship with patients. Connecting to OHS’s system would violate that trust, even if they aren’t profiting. A system is only as strong as its weakest link.

More stakeholders are asking whether the state’s new HIE is worth the costs and the risks. Connecticut has at least four functioning HIEs that securely share data now among providers caring for individual patients without any tax dollars or state interference. There are far better uses for federal funding to support communication between providers and improve care.