Integrating data and building trust in South Jersey

Strengthening ecosystems of care Quality improvement

Since our founding in 2002, one of the core functions of the Camden Coalition has been using data to connect people with the services they need. We are very excited to announce that, in early 2022, healthcare and social services providers across South Jersey will be able to search for and refer patients to local social services and resources right from our Camden Coalition Health Information Exchange (HIE).

Launched in 2010, the Camden Coalition HIE allows healthcare and social services providers to see a fuller picture of their patients’ or clients’ health histories, supporting smoother care transitions and better clinical decision-making. Our My Resource Pal service, powered by social care network Aunt Bertha, allows both providers and residents of South Jersey to search for social services and resources in the community. My Resource Pal includes information on over 7,000 programs in New Jersey.

We are currently working with Aunt Bertha to integrate My Resource Pal into the HIE so that providers will be able to access social needs information and refer patients to local resources within the HIE platform. The end goal is that providers will be able to see records of past referrals to social services through the HIE, giving them a more cohesive record of their patients’ or clients’ social needs connections and insight into how these needs may affect their health.

As South Jersey’s Regional Health Hub, we are tasked with building a strong complex care ecosystem where individuals with complex health and social needs can seamlessly access the care they need. Integrating our HIE with our resource referral platform will help us achieve our larger goal — bridging the healthcare and social services sectors in South Jersey. 

To get an idea of what this integration process looks like in other communities across the country and how integrating data can build trust across sectors, we turned to our partners at Aunt Bertha, the social service referral platform that powers My Resource Pal. We chatted with Erine Gray, Founder and CEO of Aunt Bertha — who will also be speaking at our upcoming conference, Putting Care at the Center 2021 — to learn more about what we can expect to see in Camden. 

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is HIE integration an important strategy for connecting medical and social care?

Health Care (two words) includes medical, social, and behavioral health. Overall health and wellness is not simply medical care. While federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs) and others have been doing social care work for decades, the overall healthcare industry at-large has only recently awakened to the benefits of serving whole person needs. To serve overall wellness, improved care coordination is needed across healthcare, education, corrections, agencies, and other entry points where people seek navigation help. 

HIEs are well-positioned as an access point for this information-sharing as they are a permission-based entity that follows HIPAA regulations, with members who have trusted care coordination responsibilities across a community. Aunt Bertha is thrilled to integrate the network and platform with Camden’s HIE and My Resource Pal, in order to bring better information to more navigators and improved care coordination for all.

What have you heard from patients and providers in areas where Aunt Bertha-powered platforms are integrated into the HIE?

Some of the key feedback is ease of workflow — by integrating the platform into the HIE, staff save documentation time as the patient information is defaulted into the assessments, referral forms and other data documentation. Other feedback is that it’s tremendously helpful not to have to ask or bother patients about information they’ve already provided, or information about their referral history that the care coordinator can view already with permission. Dignity in the process of asking for help is essential and these integrations offer easier workflows for staff, and gentler engagement for people in need.

How do you ensure patient privacy and patient control over their data when creating HIE integrations?

Patient privacy is so important in the social care landscape — people are sharing some of their most sensitive information, such as addiction-related challenges or domestic violence issues, among many others. Within the Aunt Bertha platform, we require consent with each referral. This ensures that we know what organizations should have access to each referral by default. We also keep track of our customers’ data-sharing agreements, so we can respect the care coordination teams that should have permissioned access to a population of people in need.

HIEs are regulated and must follow permission-based access to personal health information, so we are aligned in the model of access to sensitive data. There are also audit logs within Aunt Bertha as well as in HIEs to ensure when someone looks up a person’s history, we know who and ensure that staff are in a true care coordination relationship with the person in need. We take privacy a step further, in that we also offer control to the person in need to keep private their self-navigated referral history – so this information won’t be in the HIE unless the person chooses. This control maintains dignity in the navigation process for each person.

Aunt Bertha is also HITRUST certified and uses encrypted communication in our integrations.

How can social care connection platforms like Aunt Bertha help build trust within our healthcare and social services systems?

Building bridges across healthcare, social care, and among the many social service programs requires significant humility, listening, and understanding that each community is different and faces unique disparities. Communities at-large, institutions like healthcare, and families and individuals all have different priorities in the growth of social service partnership. As the only nationwide [social care] network, we have the responsibility to partner in communities on true community engagement, where we listen first to the needs of programs, the community and those navigators helping people. If we listen well, we will be able to offer the best tools, the best training, the best funding relationships and the best system workflows serving navigators and people in need.

Hear more from Erine and other complex care leaders at Putting Care at the Center 2021.