A giant step forward in creating efficiencies and producing complete vaccination records for Louisiana patients – as well as a giant leap towards reducing vaccine inequities in the South – was made by Access Health Louisiana this year.
AHL Senior Vice President of Population Health Chatrian Kanger oversaw a crucial integration for Access Health Louisiana – which operates community health centers and school clinics in St. Charles Parish – and by doing so the health system became the first federally qualified health center in the state to integrate LA Statewide Immunization Registry (LINKS)immunization records with its electronic medical records system.
The integration essentially makes it easier for health care workers to pull vaccination records for patients and ensure better continuity of care.
Kanger said public health workers like herself can call recall the long 15 years that health centers were in a perpetual state of “testing” with their LINKS connections.
“It was just something we learned to ‘accept’ and live with,” she said. “A few years ago, I discovered that some area hospitals were live on their systems, while we still were not.”
While the institutions were operating with another electronic medical records vendor, Kanger said the discovery convinced her it was possible for AHL to be live as well.
“So about two years ago our Electronic Medical Records Manager Aneta Gamarra and myself set out on a mission to get at least the uni-directional interface going and we managed to accomplish that despite the pandemic and other setbacks,” she said, adding the uni-directional interface streamlined workflows and saved staff time from having to perform duplicate data entry. “Staff just had to enter the vaccine info into the patient’s chart and push a button, and the system would update the patient’s information in LINKS.”
That saved – on average – about three to five minutes per patient.
“When that project was near completion, I began asking, ‘What’s next? What do we need to do to get the bi-directionality?’ Kanger said. “Bi-directionality would provide for us ‘a push’ from the statewide registry directly into our patient charts of a patient’s complete historical vaccination history.”
The state advised AHL to talk to its electronic medical records vendor – athenahealth – for assistance.
“We did just that,” she said. “We submitted cases, we requested meetings with the leaders, we met with the vendor’s FQHC director and pleaded our case for assistance to help us make this happen this past summer when Louisiana was experiencing a third wave of COVID due to the delta variant and low vaccination rates statewide.”
Kanger said she and others soon learned that athenahealth didn’t have the bi-directionality feature “turned on” in St. Charles Parish – or in any of Louisiana.
“I felt like we had hit a brick wall,” she said. “I told them, ‘Access Health Louisiana is the largest health center in the state of Louisiana serving uninsured and under-insured patients- and we are your client. It would make a huge difference to help us more easily obtain a complete vaccination record for our patients during this time of great need.’”
Kanger said after asking why healthcare workers in practices in the Northeast just push a button and obtain a complete historical immunization record, athenahealth said they would “pick up the project” and enabled the feature on their system.
Paul Brient, chief product officer for athenahealth, said each state varies in requirements, which is considered when the company turns on the bi-directional interface to test and make available in production for customers.
He said Kanger and other AHL employees were great partners who enabled athenahealth to complete testing and bring the needed functionality live.
“Our corporate vision is to create a thriving ecosystem that delivers accessible, high-quality, and sustainable healthcare for all,” he said. “This requires that our customers – healthcare providers – have access to as much information about their patients as possible, including complete vaccination records. Making potential gaps in care more visible and easier to act on is just one component in ensuring that all patients have access to quality care, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic group, income or literacy level.”
Because there are a number of other practices in Louisiana also using athenahealth, Kanger said AHL’s work is going to help more people than just its own employees.
“You know, we talk about health equity … and this is a health equity project,” she said.