We recently sat down with Interop Hero, Tim Freund, Associate Flight Manager for one of Banner Health’s air medical basis to discuss how a simple seed grew into something much bigger than he anticipated. We learned about all the benefits — expected and not — that Direct Secure Messaging has provided Banner Health.

Tim had been a paramedic for more than 20 years and started with Banner Health 5 years ago as a Pre-hospital Coordinator. In this role, he works with the fire and EMS agencies that bring patients to the hospital. Part of their job is to help get the patient’s health data from the EMS record to the hospital record. Historically, when the EMS team brought a patient to the hospital, they would print a physical copy of the patient’s electronic chart, hand it off to the Health Unit Coordinator and ask them to make it electronic again. Needless to say, Tim and his partners saw an opportunity to streamline efficiencies.

On top of that duplicative work, Tim personally spent much of his days tracking down charts that never made it to the hospital team. After doing some simple calculations, he realized people were essentially using their entire day to track down, upload and print these missing charts. It doesn’t take long for 5-minute tasks to add up!

Fortunately, Tim helped pioneer a pilot project that used Direct Secure Messaging to eliminate all the wasted time being spent dealing with these paper charts.

“We use a Direct Secure Messaging address that goes to a secure inbox so that trained people can go in there and help us match the record to the real patient in live time. That’s the benefit of this, is there’s no delay.”

For example, this made it possible for doctors to receive and review a patient’s chart before that patient arrived to the hospital.

In order to make this pilot program a reality, Tim had to get buy in from his IT department and Health Information Management (HIM) partners. In talking to his HIM partners, Tim learned Banner Health already had an EHR platform that could support these secure transactions, and this new addition was something that could easily be built.

An unforeseen benefit of going through the training for this implementation was discovering errors within some of the charts — and then improving the accuracy of matching patient records while simultaneously improving their capture rate.

“We went from missing sometimes up to 50% of our charts from one agency to capturing greater than 90% of our charts from all of our EMS patients in a matter of 3 months.”

After recognizing the benefits of Direct messaging, Tim wanted to spread the good word and make sure other departments within Banner Health had the same access to this new world of interoperability. He started by making sure other Banner Health facilities had their own Direct address. Tim successfully led the first demo for his colleagues that showed just how efficient this new method was. He gives kudos to the agencies he was working with and credits them as the catalyst for introducing Direct Secure Messaging to Banner Health as a best practice.

In fact, those agencies also benefited from Tim’s implementation. It turned out that his fire and EMS partners no longer had to stick around to fill out their patient’s chart. Instead, they could send it electronically on the way to their next call and get to that job faster. This in turn meant fewer 911 calls in the queue and likely more lives saved.

Tim goes on to describe the problematic process of getting charts from fire and EMS crews as being universal for neighboring healthcare systems in the greater Phoenix area. In one of his meetings with professionals in similar roles, Tim spread the interoperability love yet again. From there, he became an ambassador for introducing this technology to anyone who he thought could benefit from it — and then helping them understand how it works through trainings and educational materials. It didn’t take long for word to spread. Tim slowly began to pass his playbook to others interested in Direct Secure Messaging for their own healthcare system.

Banner Health has been using Direct Secure Messaging for just over 2 years. Because of his passion for interoperability, Tim has seen this technology creep into many other healthcare systems. He still gets emails from healthcare professionals asking for tutorials. At the end of the day, Tim wants everyone to benefit from this technology. Afterall, when a loved one finds themselves in the hospital, you want that hospital to have the tools to work efficiently — no matter the healthcare system.

“When they realize this doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, [and] that it works all around the healthcare system, they’re like, ‘Oh, we definitely want to be a part of this.’ Because in a way it’s still cutting edge.”

The data interoperability framework exists, but there are still those who aren’t familiar with the great benefits that come along with it. We’re glad to hear that Tim took it upon himself to not only get this technology implemented within his own hospital, but that he shared his knowledge with other healthcare systems to get them on board as well.

Of course, without support from leadership none of this could have happened. Luckily, Tim’s colleagues trusted him and his expertise in trying something new. This goes to show that it never hurts to ask. We encourage others just like Tim to bring interoperability to their decision makers and make the case for implementing Direct Secure Messaging. Tim says one way he kept leaders’ interest was providing updates on small success stories during implementation.

All of his initial efforts to get this project off the ground paid off. And after a few demos, he had people hooked. The biggest takeaway from Tim’s presentations was simplicity. Making a process change can seem daunting, so when people saw just how easy it was to not only make the change, but use the technology, he didn’t need to do much convincing. We hope Tim’s approach helps inspire those who have been wanting to take a leap of faith in their own organization.

“Take a chance and see the benefit of this. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and it’s really got this perpetual motion because once you get it going it really picks up steam.”

Thank you to Tim Freund of Banner Health for sharing his experience and perspective with us!

Learn more about the Interoperability Hero Initiative and check out our second class of Interoperability Heroes.

This post was contributed by Alyssa Foggia-Hamm.