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Database targets medical backlog

Luis Fábregas
| Monday, Sept. 15, 2003

About 40 booths will display local diabetes and depression resources. Those scheduled to participate include Paul O'Neill, former treasury secretary; Raymond W. LeBoeuf, chairman and CEO of PPG Industries; and Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999 and a diabetes advocate

A regional database is under construction to help local doctors better treat patients with diabetes and depression, two of the most debilitating illnesses affecting people in Western Pennsylvania.

The tool -- known as the Pittsburgh Health Information Network -- will collect patient information from health insurers, sort it out, and craft reports that will give doctors test results and other key information much quicker than now.

"We keep hearing from physicians, 'we don't have information about our patients,'" said Tania Lyon, chronic care coordinator at the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative, a consortium of hospitals, doctors and health insurers. PRHI is heading the project. "There's a high level of frustration for both the physician and the patients."

The new tool, which could be rolled out next year, is one of several programs that will be unveiled today by PRHI, a high-profile group that is worried about the quality of patient care in Western Pennsylvania.

The group zeroed in on chronic conditions like diabetes after studying troubling statistics. For instance, about one third of those newly diagnosed with diabetes never realized they were at risk of the disease, PRHI officials said. About 7 percent of Pennsylvanians have the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The goal of the database is to solve a long-standing problem in doctors' offices: how to sort through hundreds of claim reports from health insurers that pile up day after day.

"Doctors are getting faxes from six different labs, and everything tends to be shoveled onto piles," Lyon said. "Sometimes the filing doesn't get organized in time for the next patient visit."

The upshot, according to PRHI, is that up to half of patients with diabetes and depression are not getting effective care. It can be that they are missing a yearly eye exam or they haven't had standard follow-up treatment after taking an antidepressant.

Dr. Nick DeGregorio, who manages a practice of about 30 primary care doctors in the South Hills and Uniontown, said doctors often spend a third of a 15-minute consultation tracking down information about a patient.

"There's a lot of wasted time," DeGregorio said. "Oftentimes, you don't even have the records."

PRHI officials say they are still working out details of the network, which has the backing of four commercial health insurers and three Medicaid insurers. About a dozen primary care and psychiatry doctors will participate in a pilot that could start next year. When it's ready, the system will be available to doctors over the Internet. PRHI officials say that the data-sharing system will comply with new federal privacy regulations.

It will allow them to generate several reports, such as patients who have either diabetes or depression; patient-specific data such as dates of last doctor visit or results of blood sugar tests; and comparisons of how doctors are doing against regional benchmarks.

In the future, PRHI hopes patients will also be able to access the network and look at their own records. The data could help a patient track their progress and stay on top of critical dates, such as when they need to call their doctor for a test or check-up.

"This has terrific preventive potential," said Dennis Schilling, a pharmacist who works for PRHI. "Doctors can figure out who's falling through the cracks."

Additional Information:

Fighting chronic illnesses

Who: Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative

What: Diabetes and depression resource showcase

When: Monday, Sept. 15 at 9:45 a.m.

Where: PPG Wintergarden, One PPG Place, Downtown

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