Behavioral Health Providers Bridge Mental, Physical Health with HIEs
Behavioral health providers face the challenge of bringing together mental and physical health, but they can bridge that gap with the information flows from NC HealthConnex, the state-designated health information exchange (HIE).
Alexander Youth Network delivers a range of behavioral health treatments for children in North Carolina and relies on NC HealthConnex to understand patients' physical, mental, and social needs and histories.
"To have this information available that provides a full picture of what's going on with a kid is only going to improve the outcomes of their care and help make sure that they're living the most successful life that they possibly can live," said Carolyn Spence, chief information officer for Alexander Youth Network.
Ashley Sparks is overseeing Alexander Youth Network's 16-bed facility for youth experiencing an acute mental crisis. The center provides treatments for around 10 days as an alternative to inpatient hospitalization. NC HealthConnex has served as an integral tool as the center takes in walk-in patients and referrals from social services across the state.
"NC HealthConnex is super vital because we're able to see some of the treatment history that gets missed or lost when a family is in crisis. And sometimes our kids have long treatment histories," Sparks said. "We always really want to know where they've been and the kinds of medications have they tried when we're working towards stabilization."
Center nurses use NC HealthConnex to gather an accurate medical history as children arrive. The HIE lets nurses discover their medication histories, previous hospital stays, and other treatments for physical and mental health.
That data helps the center develop the right treatments for children during their stay. Alexander Youth Network can also make sure that the children are placed with families appropriate for their needs and that their next medical providers know their treatment plans.
"There are lots of behavioral health benefits in general to knowing someone's health history because those are the social determinants of health," Sparks said. "Having an accurate treatment history, that's one of the biggest components of NC HealthConnex. … It's critical to know what kind of steps that child has taken throughout their life and where they've been placed."
Alexander Youth Network has operationalized NC HealthConnex in other areas, including gathering information for timely evaluation of referrals and maintaining accreditation. In case of cybersecurity incidents, it can use the HIE to access patients' diagnoses, goals, and medications and rebuild their service plans.
"Along with that, Alexander Youth Network is currently applying to be a care management entity," Spence said. "Having access to HealthConnex and receiving hospital admission, discharge, and transfer feeds is a huge component of that, and we're already ahead of the eight ball."
Spence believes that Alexander Youth Network's experiences with the HIE should urge other behavioral health providers adopt NC HealthConnex and experiment with ways to operationalize it.
"It's really important that we're a part of it because behavioral health agencies need to communicate with each other," Sparks said. "I think we need more venues to connect as behavioral health providers in general."
Connecting to NC HealthConnex is "worth it to ensure that you know you're really doing the best you can for the clients or patients that you're serving," Spence said.
NC HealthConnex Outreach to North Carolina Healthcare Providers
The NC HIEA enters a new phase of its mission: providers and entities regulated by the Statewide Health Information Exchange Act have a new statutory deadline of Jan. 1, 2023, to connect to NC HealthConnex and begin sending data.
Since becoming operational in 2016, the NC HIEA has been on a mission to connect health care providers and enable them to safely and securely share health information through a trusted network to improve health care quality and outcomes for North Carolinians.
Last summer, we worked with the NC General Assembly to extend connection deadlines amid the enormity of the pandemic and the challenges faced by frontline health care workers. However, the same legislation that extended the connectivity timeline to Jan. 1, 2023, also required a large-scale effort to report to legislators on the status of statewide connectivity.
In February 2022, the NC HIEA has continued outreach efforts to unconnected members of the health care community by mailing letters to providers and the organizations they interact with. Consistent with directions from the N.C. General Assembly, these letters “share information with each provider or entity about the Statewide Health Information Exchange Act and how to connect to the HIE Network.”
We encourage a response by engaging in a legal agreement and/or connection process with NC HIEA. Providers and organizations are encouraged to immediately take action to meet the Jan. 1, 2023, deadline.
Additionally, the NC HIEA’s Advisory Board was directed to “recommend appropriate features or actions to support enforcement of the Statewide Health Information Exchange Act” (see N.C.S.L. 2021-26). That report will be submitted to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee for Health and Human Services on or before April 15.
Health Care Organizations Should Review Revised Statewide Information Security Policies
Health care organizations are encouraged to review and update their information security and privacy policies based on revisions to the Statewide Information Manual by the N.C. Department of Information Technology.
The updates policies, which provide state agencies with a baseline for managing information security and making risk-based decisions, align with the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-53 Revision 5. Health care organizations, along with state and local governments, historically have adopted these standards.
Revision 5 is the first substantial update to the NIST 800-53 framework in seven years and reflects the challenges and risks to the ever-changing cyber landscape.
Learn more in NCDIT Enterprise Security and Risk Management Office's February Cybersecurity newsletter.
- How to Connect Call
Feb. 28, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Interested providers may register to join a monthly "How to Connect" call to learn about who we are, as well as the state mandate, steps to connect and value-added features.
- NC HIEA Advisory Board Meeting
March 8, 2022, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Find out how to attend.
- NC HIEA Advisory Board Meeting
Thursday, March 21, 2022, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Find out how to attend.
- Upcoming Teletown Hall Meeting
March 30, 2 p.m.
Learn more about how you can get the most out of NC HIEA's Controlled Substance Reporting System, single sign-on, bidirectional connections, NC*Notify, and the NC HealthConnex Clinical Portal.
- Quarterly User Audit
NC HealthConnex Participant Account Administrators contacted by email should complete their user audits. See the Quarterly Audit Quick Reference Guide, or for assistance, contact the NC HealthConnex Help Desk Team at email@example.com or 919-531-2700.
In the News
Delivering on the Promise of Health Information Technology in 2022 — The 21st century health care system should be freed from paper’s constraints. Health system reform should embrace the secure, easy, appropriate flow of electronic data wherever and whenever needed to improve health care. HealthAffairs.org
American Heart Month Toolkits 2022 — Health care professionals and community partner can find toolkits developed by CDC to implement evidence-based hypertension control strategies. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention