Texas HIE Launches Local Pilot Project to Integrate Social Determinants Data

Feb. 2, 2018
Two Texas-based organizations, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. and HASA, the statewide HIE for San Antonio and parts of North, Central and South Texas, have launched a pilot project that will, for the first time locally, link social determinants of health to patient clinical information.

Two Texas-based organizations, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. and HASA, the statewide Health Information Exchange (HIE) for San Antonio and parts of North, Central and South Texas, have launched a pilot project that will, for the first time locally, link social determinants of health to patient clinical information.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries has awarded HASA a $175,000 grant to expand its support services for the local healthcare community by adding information about the socioeconomic factors that influence patient health to its already rich clinical data repository. Specifically, the project will result in a cloud-based application for integrating social determinants of health information into HASA’s comprehensive HIE. The project will be conducted under the leadership of Dr. Vince Fonseca, HASA’s medical director and clinical professor at UIW School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Social determinants of health are factors not commonly considered part of medical care but nonetheless have significant impact on patient health outcomes and include things such as whether a patient needs housing, employment or transportation.

“We have heard from many physicians that HASA’s ability to provide clinical and up-to-date patient information at the time a patient needs care in an emergency room has become more mainstream,” Gijs van Oort, executive director of HASA, said in a prepared statement.  “At the same time, research shows that the reasons people seek medical care are not limited to physical or emotional but are more affected by social conditions such as housing, transportation and the ability to eat regularly.” 

“Our intent is to provide an easy-to-use, holistic patient view for treating physicians, that includes the clinical, social, and behavior risk of a patient,” Dr. Fonseca said. “A patient who has a breathing problem but is unable to go to the pharmacy for necessary medication, is more likely to let a condition worsen to the point where a 911 call transports them to a hospital. Knowing this likelihood at the time of discharge, allows a care manager to connect this patient to available community services and avoid costly ED visits.” 

According to the organizations, one future benefit is that by collaborating with EMS services so that they have access to this information, EMS services can work more effectively at lower costs to the community.

While preliminary work has been completed, HASA plans to have the program built out and pilot tested in one of Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ San Antonio clinics by the end of 2018. 

George Thomas, chief operating officer at Methodist Healthcare Ministries and current chair of the HASA board of directors, emphasized the goal of the pilot project is two-fold. “In the short-term, the collection of this data will give us a different lens from which to examine symptoms, and enhance the quality of care we provide to individual patients,” he said. “However, the long-term goal is to identify the root cause of health issues so that we can enhance the delivery of care at a greater systems level.”

The program is designed so that other community sources who track these measures, can be included as well, the organizations said, noting that it can be of great benefit to patient health if providers can see and quantify linkages between the social determinants of health and actual clinical outcomes. It is expected that this project will enable that type of analysis.

“We are hopeful this pilot will produce results that create opportunities for improved health for the community as a whole,” Thomas said. “And, that it will serve as a model for innovation in health care systems change.”

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