California-based San Mateo County Health is a safety net provider. It offers a range of services, including behavioral health, recovery services and social services. SMCH works with pregnant women, seniors, disabled children and also manages the provision of healthcare in the county’s correctional facilities.

In order to understand how to best serve each patient, the organization has to fully understand his or her needs. Unfortunately, SMCH had a problem: siloed information.

“Because our behavioral health and recovery services organization uses one EHR and our medical center and clinics actually use three EMRs, there isn’t a way (other than if the patient tells you) to fully understand where you might be co-managing a person’s health,” SMCH CIO Eric Raffin explained in a phone interview.

Though there’s a connection between mental and physical health, the lack of interoperability prevented providers from knowing if they were co-managing the patient’s health.

To tackle this issue, Raffin said SMCH took on a multi-pronged approach.

First, it brought together all the relevant parties (such as individuals from the social services, behavioral health, medical health, health IT and legal counsel teams) to create an information governance program. Through it, stakeholders tackled issues like a registration policy and the standardization of clinical terminology.

Next, SMCH addressed patient identity management. “We decided to implement an Enterprise Master Person Index,” Raffin said. The tool analyzes and searches for potential duplicate patient records and can merge them together.

Finally, the California organization chartered San Mateo County Connected Care, a health information exchange used for sharing health-related information from individuals receiving services from SMCH. Through it, a provider can look up a client and see data on his or her medical health, behavioral health and social determinants of health. SMC Connected Care allows clinicians and others to have a much more informed view as they care for individuals.

Overall, Raffin said this approach has benefitted SMCH in multiple ways. For instance, on the care team side, it has helped reduce the amount of time it takes for providers to learn something is going on with their patient.

“A second example that was a surprise to us deals with how individuals are booked into jail,” Raffin said. “What we didn’t know was that if you are booked, one of the first things that happens is a health assessment.”

If the staff believes the individual being booked is medically unstable, there’s a delay in the processing. But through the HIE, staff members can see the person’s information and more quickly find the best location for him or her in the correctional facility.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

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