MEDfx CEO Colin Barry discusses Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records (transcript)

This is the transcript of my recent podcast with MEDfx CEO Colin Barry.

Williams:            This is David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business Blog.  I’m speaking today with Colin Barry,  CEO of MEDfx.  Colin, thanks for being with me today.

Barry:            Thank you David.

Williams:            Tell me a little bit about what problem your company is trying to solve.

Barry:            Every other sector of our economy has leveraged technology to drive massive improvements in efficiency, quality and service delivery.  Our health care delivery system is a key target for this kind of improvement.  The potential of health information is largely untapped because it still remains in a form such as paper that is not efficiently communicated or aggregated.

MEDfx is focused on solving this very problem by making electronic health information available and fluid.  Our solution allows physicians to quickly access information that’s pertinent to a patient’s care.

Williams:            It seems as though your focus is care for military veterans and soldiers on active duty.  Is that in fact a focus and if so what is the use case?

Barry:            Our role is helping to bridge the connection between the VA and the DOD and the private sector to bring all this information together.

Nearly 60 percent of military personnel receive their health care through non-military providers.  A typical scenario is that a veteran receives care at a private health care facility and using our technology, the treating clinician is able to view a universally accessible health record containing information from the VA, DOD and other private health care facilities.  This might include the patient’s allergies, their medications and diagnostic test results that would otherwise require phone calls, faxes or redoing unnecessary diagnostic testing.

Williams:            Are there key difference between veterans or the active duty population and civilians in terms of their needs?  I’m just curious about why you’re focused on this particular issue.

Barry:            There are some key differences.  Veterans, through the VA and the DOD, are served by some of the most widely deployed electronic medical records systems.  They’re very advanced in maintaining the health information within their individual organizations.  Veterans and active duty service members benefit from this centralized medical records system, which provides a level of continuity when receiving care at veteran and military service facilities.  These are very large organizations.

The rest of the population, in most cases, receives care from smaller organizations that lack the available health information, which is a challenge.  This speaks to the problem itself and our focus on making health information available across organizational boundaries.  In our case, the information follows the patient wherever they might seek care.

Williams:            I noticed that you’ve got a product called Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records.  Does that tie in closely with what you’re describing?

Barry:            It’s similar.  We don’t have product for Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records.  It’s actually a government funded initiative that was launched in 2009 by the President as a directive to the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to create a Unified Lifetime Electronic Health Record for members of our Armed Services.  ULER contains both administrative and medical information for service members and veterans, providing access to information from day one of the service member’s military career through transition all the way through veteran status and beyond.  Think of it as a universally accessible health record for active and non-active service members and their families.

The goal here is to provide more efficient processing of benefits, better informed clinicians, services and care providers, improved continuity and timeliness of care and enhanced awareness among all involved parties and elimination of gaps in records.

Williams:            And who is funding this?

Barry:            This is government funded.  Our technology supports this initiative on the private sector side so that we can support the exchange of health information from the private sector to the VA and the DOD when they might be treating a patient and need information at the point of care.

Williams:            When a person on active duty or a veteran goes to a private facility or a non-governmental facility, does that facility have to be connected in with you or can the patient just bring some sort of key or link that allows access to the records?

Barry:            There have been pilot programs where people have health information stored on some small device or flash memory stick, but the real push right now is based on the Nationwide Health Information Network. And that underpins a large part of the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record initiative.

These create the secure standards to be able to transport this information through the networks securely over the internet so that people don’t need to carry around a physical device or something similar, which is difficult to update with additional health information or easy to lose.  We add much more fluidity to the information when it’s available real time, on demand.

Williams:            I’ve heard of the Nationwide Health Information Network and I know there have been various pilots.  What’s the status of that initiative?  Is it something that’s up and running that you can actually use or is that just a future plan of what you’d like to be able to do?

Barry:            That’s a great question.  Actually it is in use.  In 2009, we were the first to bring it into production use, starting with the Social Security Administration, the VA and DOD. After that we added CMS to the network for a community in Virginia.

As of the end of last year, there are over 20 organizations connected to the Nationwide Health Information Network; a vast array and variety of sizes of organizations from federal agencies to large IDNs. Health information exchange organizations are all collaborating and using this today.

Williams:            One partnership that I’ve seen mentioned in connection with your company is MedVirginia, but I’m not familiar with MedVirginia or the nature of your partnership.  What’s that all about?

Barry:            MedVirginia is a super regional health information organization.  They aggregate data for their stakeholders in Central Virginia and were very much and still are a leader in connected health solutions with a particular focus on the Nationwide Health Information Network.

It was with them in collaboration that we did the work to be able to connect up entities like the Social Security Administration and do the VLER work to connect the hospitals and facilities for both public and private.  They’re real leaders in this space. Our focus is on the technology and we’re able to accommodate the standards and guidelines that are being published through the  Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT, which is really describing the plumbing of how this works in a safe and secure way to be able to move this information from stakeholder to stakeholder.

Williams:            Going back to what you said at the beginning about the problems that you’re trying to solve, it seems like there is actually a pretty clear set of issues that you’re addressing, but things are still in the relatively early stages. Can you give me a sense of what kind of milestones you expect along the way and what kind of timeline to expect before this technology is widely implemented ?

Barry:            There are several initiatives. VLER is a very important one, which supports moving health information from the government organizations and the very large systems –the top down approach.

At the same time, we have states that are receiving funds through the stimulus act to create Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records at a state level.  We have the national level, we have the state level, and there are also initiatives that leverage standards to do it at the community level.  There are three things working simultaneously to sandwich in this problem.  It’s not all just top down –how long will it take everyone to get on the nationwide health information network. We’re seeing a lot of activity at all three tiers.

For all the good reasons we talked about, I think this consensus at making electronic health information available will make a tremendous impact on health care delivery in this country. You can think of it like this; the “plumbing” is in place in a handful of geographical locations to support Virtual Lifetime Electronic Records. We’re starting to do smart things and leverage this data, but are only at the beginning of tapping the potential of the information itself.  We’ll see more “plumbing” and see new innovative ways to harness this data for the benefits of patients and care providers.

Williams:            I’ve been speaking today with Colin Barry, CEO of MEDfx.  We’ve been talking about the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record or VLER program.  Colin, thanks so much for your time.

Barry:            Thank you very much David.

February 9, 2012

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