A Different Kind of Patient Access to HIT at Queens Health Network

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was beckoned to the borough Queens, NY, shortly after my presentation at the United Hospital Fund. Despite the snow, the trip wasn’t that difficult (in fact, Rachel’s advice to stop and get shoe covers made all the difference in the world).

It was, of course, well worth the trip. I came to Elmhurst Hospital Center, part of Queens Health Network, where they have been using smart card technology to enable better patient care.

First, pictures (click on any to see full size):

As the images show, patient ID cards for the network have embedded smart chips in them that store 64K worth of information, in read-only format. A new version is being rolled out that will store 128K worth of information and be read-write. Given that 22 different languages are spoken by the borough’s 3 million residents, it is easy to see that having a portable version of a medically-understandable health record could be useful. The Network has outfitted local emergency rooms with card readers.

In an innovative program with the Queens Library, patients will be able to access card readers there to see what is on their smart card. What I was shown was a concise clinical summary of health care activity, that included medications, recent tests, and ongoing medical conditions. I could imagine how this could reduce the stress of relaying a person’s medical history to a new doctor or a doctor in an emergency situation. Within the hospital, the patients’ records are available on a state of the art electronic health record; the card is just for portability. Outside of the emergency room environment, a PIN code is used to access the data.

The commitment is there to make this work. Clinics have machines that generate the special ID cards. Card readers are attached at key points in the clinical workflow to ensure updating of the latest information from the EHR. Challenges remain, including making sure that updating of the card occurs at every visit. We did not discuss in detail the impact of a read/write card, and how that would bring data back to the Health and Hospitals’ Corporation electronic health record.

During my visit I was also shown Queens Health Network’s work to improve chronic disease care using registry systems linked to their electronic health record, by Rand David, MD. They have made significant gains in the last 5 years in both process and outcome measures for diabetes, which is what I was shown. Alfred Marino, Glenn Martin, MD, and Amelia Shapiro, are the team working on the smart card piece, in addition to several operations leaders who are integrating this into the workflow. Besides the interest in the technology, they have an interest in the distinct attributes of the population they are working to serve, which came across very clearly to me.

What strikes me as very interesting about this idea is that it supports a simple and “interoperable” health record that is under patients’ physical control. In my own work, I had not considered the value of a smart card linked to our electronic health record, but why not? If it improves the comfort with which a patient is able to seek care, especially in a multicultural community, I think this could fill an important niche.

There are definitely challenges regarding workflow and community support of this program, which are both being actively worked on. The work of Queens Health is a very nice demonstration that patient access to their own health information is not just about having Web or Internet access, and it can make a difference in supporting good health care.

Ted Eytan, MD