Dr. Mark Toups, M.D, FACP has practiced internal medicine in Beaumont, Texas for over 30 years and currently serves as medical director for network development and medical home for CHRISTUS Health Foundation of Southeast Texas. Dr. Toups is a frequent lecturer in the field of medical informatics, an interest which developed in the 1980s, when he began investigating the use of on-line queries as a bedside tool at UTHSC-Dallas, Parkland Memorial Hospital. There he trained medical students, residents, and attending physicians in MEDLINE searching methods as an integral part of patient care. He has continued to advise various organizations in the development of technological solutions to medical management and advocates for the use of technology as an enhancement to medical practice.
The health care system is complex. Patients visiting multiple providers and specialists who are at different offices and hospitals across various communities can result in a structure where there is no single health care professional managing an individual’s care or records. This is particularly challenging in areas where outmigration for highly specialized care is common, as is the case in the Golden Triangle community in Texas where patients may travel to Houston and Galveston for tertiary health care. This disparate structure has providers attempting to manually contact and retrieve patient information that is time consuming and error prone.
Greater Houston Healthconnect, the regional health information exchange (HIE) that services Southeast Texas, utilizes a query-based interoperable network to access the patient’s longitudinal health record. The HIE network, which is responsible for connecting nearly 7500 health care professionals in the area, enables clinicians to query health data on their patients so that important clinical information can be exchanged quickly, while the patient is still in the office. Dr. Mark Toups, an internist seeing patients at the CHRISTUS Physician Group in Beaumont, a city in the Golden Triangle, is an active HIE user. Virtually the entire Golden Triangle hospital community participates in Healthconnect. A female patient visited Dr. Toups for a regular checkup. Dr. Toups utilized the HIE’s query function to view the patient’s health data. With Healthconnect, he identified that the patient was seen just days before by another local physician who discovered a mass on her kidney. Oftentimes paper records can take weeks to arrive at another doctor’s office. Through the immediacy of the query-based exchange, Dr. Toups was able to view the details of her condition, come to the proper diagnosis, and promptly formulate a recommendation for her care, while the patient was in the office with him.
Dr. Toups’ careful review of his patient’s health data through Healthconnect led to a more informed diagnosis and the appropriate care plan for the patient. The patient received better care as well as saved time and money by avoiding a repeat visit and potentially redundant scans. Ultimately, the HIE enabled higher quality, reduced cost, and a better patient experience. Dr. Toups’ use of HIE was highlighted by the Texas Medical Association in the April 2015 issue of Texas Medicine.
A community in which all of its health care providers and hospitals are connected to a health information exchange is better positioned to provide timely, complete, quality care to its residents.