Social Security says test proves benefits of health data exchange
■ The office started sharing information to expedite determination of disability benefits.
By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted June 24, 2009
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The U.S. Social Security Administration says it has already demonstrated the business value of a national health information exchange through the test run it's doing in collaboration with MedVirginia, a regional health information exchange in central Virginia.
The two started exchanging data in February to expedite disability benefit approvals. By using the data exchange to receive medical records that can help determine eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA says the approval process has been reduced to an average of 32 days from 83 days.
A handful of cases were determined within a day of being received, said Jim Borland, special adviser for health IT for the SSA.
"That just doesn't happen," he said.
Not only does the real-time exchange of information reduce staff time on the SSA's end, it can also help physician practices and hospitals save time and staff resources, too, Borland said. Because it can eat up time to retrieve patient files for the SSA, the agency pays practices and hospitals an administrative fee -- which varies by geographic location -- to cover retrieval costs.
"While we pay for those records ... we know that, given where labor costs have gone over the years, we are probably not covering most providers' costs in providing us with those records," he said.
However, once patients start receiving Medicaid, physicians likely will be paid for care that would otherwise have been uncompensated, Borland said.
The administration submitted 575 automated requests to MedVirginia between Feb. 28 and May 29. In 460 cases it received "substantial" medical evidence back that was used to establish eligibility, according to Borland.
The SSA has also started exchanging data with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and has plans to start exchanging data with the North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance and with Kaiser Permanente later this year.