Mount Nittany Exchange connects to state electronic health records network

Mount Nittany Exchange, one of five certified health information organizations in the state, has been connected to the Pennsylvania Patient and Provider Network (P3N), the Department of Human Services announced Friday. The region’s health information repository joined the network in March.

Health information organizations act as a hub for the exchange of medical data. Under the umbrella of the P3N, Mount Nittany Exchange can now access patient records with affiliated providers across the state.

Nichole Monica, Mount Nittany’s communications and media relations director, said the exchange’s member organizations are in varying stages of onboarding. A comprehensive list is being finalized.

“Through the P3N, Mount Nittany Exchange is excited to be able to offer our members access to a broader network of patient clinical information,” Wayne Thompson, Mount Nittany Exchange administrator, said in a statement. “This benefits local patients traveling beyond our region and those patients visiting central Pennsylvania from elsewhere in the state.”

St. Luke’s University Health Network’s eVantage Health and the Keystone Health Information Exchange, which joined P3N in June, are the network’s other participants. The Department of Human Services expects to add HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern Pennsylvania and ClinicalConnect Health Information Exchange later this summer, according to a release.

For patients, the connection allows for faster processing of their electronic health records.

“In the past, patients were often expected to take their medical records from one place to another for care, and if someone had an emergency in our community, it was the patient’s or their family members’ responsibility to know all of their medical information and be able to communicate it to a doctor,” Monica said in an email. “That’s a lot of responsibility for the patient and their families, especially in an emergency.”

Besides convenience, the move from paper to digital also brings a new set of potential difficulties. According to the Department of Human Services, Mount Nittany Exchange safeguards super-protected data, or information protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, via basic filtering at the health information organization level, but its member organizations are required to filter super-protected data, or SPD, before it’s sent.

SPD presents a challenge for health care information organizations. Often appearing in the text of electronic health records — medication lists and discharge summaries, for example — SPD is difficult to separate from the rest of a patient’s medical history.

As a HIPAA-plus state, or a state that requires privacy safeguards that extend beyond HIPAA, Pennsylvania provides added protections to SPD. Examples of SPD include mental health records, HIV/AIDS status and substance abuse data, among others.

As of 2014, the available technology was unable to delineate the data at the granular level required by law. Mount Nittany Exchange uses a consolidated clinical document architecture format, a national standard in the transference of data.

Mount Nittany Exchange’s health care providers can access medication and allergy lists, longitudinal medical records and individual clinical documents.

In the case of a security breach, patients are required to be notified under the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act that went into effect in 2006.

“This is a huge step forward for patients, who will benefit from improvements in care coordination, patient safety and health care quality,” DHS Secretary Ted Dallas said in a statement. “This will bring to fruition the promise of using electronic health information exchange to improve patients’ health.”

As part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget plan, the Pennsylvania eHealth Partnership Authority merged with the Department of Human Services in July with the signing of Act 76. He estimated the move would save about $1 million annually.

Mount Nittany Exchange was established in February. Mount Nittany Health first announced it was creating a health information organization in 2013.

“At the heart of this, we are piecing together bits and pieces of a patient’s medical history that are stored in disparate (electronic health records) at multiple health care facilities into a single, more complete medical profile,” Monica said. “This is good news for our patients.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy