We’re excited to hear from Interop Hero Jennifer Searls in this video interviewJenn Searls is the Executive Director at Connie – the state of Connecticut’s statewide health information exchange. She has 15+ years of experience in Health IT  and realized the need for interoperability and process improvement experiencing the frustrations on all sides of data exchange. Connie launched in May of 2021 and with Jenn at the helm, it has aided in helping health data across Connecticut to ‘just keep swimming’ by implementing interoperability practices and streamlining the process of data sharing. Listen in to hear her explain the need for increased interoperability and communication.

The pandemic and COVID helped highlight that though we have a lot of Epic institutions, though we have most of our providers on some electronic record or another, we are still pretty disconnected, and we are not as interoperable as one would hope.

Jenn shares the story of Connie, Connecticut’s recently formed HIE. Connie has been in development since 2017 with Jenn becoming part of the team at the end of 2020. Connie was deemed operational at the beginning of 2021and shortly after, Connecticut put out a mandate saying all hospitals and labs needed to be connected to Connie within the year and all other healthcare providers within two years. The mandate ensures proper engagement and connection and sets Connie apart from predecessors attempts to form an HIE.

Before the formation of Connie, Connecticut had pockets of information gaps where organizations were not as connected as they could be. Connie is an independent, neutral, and trusted entity, not a state agency or owned by any for-profit health entity in the state. With a broad swath of different actors of the healthcare system on the Board and have a say in decision-making, people and organizations feel more comfortable connecting with Connie than they had with other HIEs in the past.

There are provider representatives on the Board as well as on the Health IT Advisory Council. There were several providers on HITAC that were integral to the development and launching of Connie. Another exciting development in the works at Connie is the launch of a clinical council compromised of physician and clinician users of Connie to give insight on how they take Use Cases and how to develop Connie further.

The pandemic has helped really highlight for folks ‘we’ve got some work to do’, and there is probably a need for us to find a common convener across the state.

She described accounts from doctors and clinicians who had felt adrift without a statewide HIE. Without Connie, medical providers endured frustrating and complex instances where data exchange was disconnected and inaccessible.

Jenn alludes to Connie’s work on the components of the quadruple aim: decreasing cost of care by not repeating tests, improving the patient experience, decreased provider burden, and better patient outcomes.

The ability to have a broader view of a patient’s information really helps [physicians] with managing total cost of care.

When speaking about how HIEs fit into the public health data utility model, she says, “it is a really exciting area for HIEs to dive into.”

There are more Use Cases coming every day as we get connected with even more stakeholders.

When speaking about how HIEs fit into the public health data utility model, she says, “it is a really exciting area for HIEs to dive into.”

She spoke on the importance of being able to “hydrate” COVID testing and vaccination information with census-track data to allow physicians to see which of their patients at a population health level are missing out on testing and vaccination efforts. This allows the opportunity for providers to target outreach for underserved populations.

There is an ability to leverage the data that is within HIEs for the public good and public utility. Jenn believes, “these areas of focus can be facilitated and HIEs are in the best space to be able to facilitate that for the public good.”

The HIE community is highly collaborative, oftentimes competitively collaborative. Long-term sustainability is a concern for many HIE because of the unique funding situations HIEs encounter. Jenn believes it is important for HIEs to work together and look at how to develop a value for their community in such a way that folks will pay for what the HIE provides.

We need to get data where it needs to go for everybody, not just the folks who can pay for it… this is sometimes not glamorous work but it is so important and critical for our healthcare providers and patients to have this work happening.

Jenn’s parting advice for others who are new to interoperability or are looking to make progress in interoperability is to ‘Just Keep Swimming’ through it. There is still so much to learn and so much to go so keep showing up and getting data exchanged.

Jenn credits the team at Connie and both state and technology partners who have worked to help advance interoperability in health information exchange.

Thank you to Interop Hero Jenn Searls for sharing her experience and perspective with us!

Learn more about the Interoperability Hero Initiative and check out our first class of Interoperability Heroes!

This post was contributed by Cora Bauman