Community exchange comes to the rescue during IT crisis

Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare leveraged its Community Health Exchange to access patient record securely when the hospital’s IT systems went offline.

On February 3, 2023, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH), a private, not-for-profit healthcare system, was hit with an IT security event.

It was an action that threatened to disrupt patient care. Patients were diverted to other facilities for emergency care and non-emergency surgeries and out-patient procedures were rescheduled.

The IT security event could have been devastating for patients had TMH not been connected to the regional health information exchange (HIE).

The Security Event
TMH publicly announced on the third that it was managing an IT security issue, and as a precautionary measure, took all its IT systems offline, cutting access to hospital servers, EHRs, email, computers and even fax machines.

Essentially, the healthcare system was operating in the dark. But TMH had a fail-safe, the regional HIE.

Though TMH could not access patient records directly through its EMR, it was able to access them through the regional HIE supported by Centralis Health. Within 48 hours of TMH shutting down its systems, Centralis was able to onboard 900 new users, which allowed TMH to bring system back online slowly and safely to efficiently care for patients.

“Centralis Health’s engagement and response to our crisis and access to the records within their system was a gamechanger,” said Dr. Dean Watson, TMH’s Vice President/Chief Integration Officer. “Our providers would not have been able to provide care as efficiently and effectively without the ability to obtain past medical record information. Centralis Health played a key role in allowing our organization to maintain vital clinical services for the community.”

Centralis Health’s HIE provided participants easy access to needed records allowing them to proceed with patient care. And because TMH used Centralis Health for its key communication channels, TMH could continue communicating with outside healthcare partners via in-network communication.

This allowed TMH—hospital and provider practices—to safely open their doors to patients sooner than expected, because through the HIE they had access to their own, historical patient records.

“The unfortunate struggles were hard, but Centralis played an enormous positive role in the flow of communications and assistance to TPCA in working through this situation and making things better for our loved TPCA patients and our valued partner TMH,” said Tom Harrison, CEO Tallahassee Primary Care Associates (TPCA).

For nearly two weeks, Centralis Health’s regional HIE served as the source for patient data across the 15-county area.

While TMH announced on Feb. 15 that all systems were go, it can operate knowing that it is being backed up by a robust regional HIE through Centralis Health.

A decade in the making
Like most healthcare providers, TMH expanded substantially over the last 15 years and invested in an electronic medical record system to better track and manage patient care. It now provides services across a 16-county area spanning North Florida and South Georgia.

TMH also recognized that with its growth, it needed to be connected with other healthcare providers across that region, and in 2013, opted into a regional HIE through Centralis Health. With TMH’s weight behind the regional HIE, other, smaller healthcare providers and systems were encouraged to join as well, allowing for greater data sharing among the many participants in the region. After roughly 10 years of growth, 82 percent of healthcare providers within the region are now connected to the HIE through Centralis Health.

“We knew we would be expanding our services across our region and due to that expansion we would be providing care to new patients and their providers outside of our network”, “said Don Lindsey Vice President and Chief Information Officer.  “We thought it was important to ensure we have access to as many of those patient records in order provide the best care possible.”

The decision 10 years ago to support and join the regional HIE was a prescient one.

For TMH, the regional HIE ended up proving to be the difference between life and death.

  1. Keep an eye on all data feeds into your HIE, having current up to date data in the system was vital to the success of this event.
  2. Make sure you have a policy in place for quick onboarding of new users of the HIE.
  3. Employ a secure portal, separate from the EMR, to access your HIE for patient record access.
  4. Keep all how-to guides and tutorials up to date so they are ready and easy to access for new utilizers of your systems.
  5. Use this story, and others like it, to drive regional HIE participation in your communities. You never know when you might need to save the day.

by Katie Bradley, Director of Operations and Account Success

As Director of Operations and Workflow, Bradley is responsible for helping hospitals and medical practitioners transition from their outdated and manual health care communications workflows and processes to embrace Centralis Health’s innovative and cloud-based solutions. This includes transforming existing fax, internal communications, and referral management processes to achieve maximum efficiency, productivity, and cost savings. In addition, Bradley leads efforts to encourage and engage greater community participation in health care exchanges between providers and hospitals. Prior to joining Centralis Health in 2015, Bradley served in a variety of administrative and operations roles in health care, including as Director of Operations for Digestive Disease Clinic in Tallahassee, FL. She graduated summa cum laude from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Services Administration. In her free time, she enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends.