Sanford Health is continuing a legacy of collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The health system is sponsoring and connecting to a digital medical image exchange.
The goal is to improve health care options for veterans in the Midwest seeking medical services outside of the VA under the Mission Act. Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is the first to get connected with other locations coming soon.
“We’re hopefully going to start seeing some really positive stories because of this,” Nathan Opitz said. Opitz helped lead the initiative as Sanford Health Director of Clinical Department Solutions.
‘Huge difference’ for veterans
The exchange allows Sanford Health and VA health care systems in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, to safely share veteran patients’ medical imaging and records data electronically, reducing the need for physical media.
“Getting this connection in place, I really feel, is going to make a huge difference for Sanford and for our relationship with our veterans,” Opitz said.
Opitz says it will cut down on duplicative imaging, make it easier to receive patients and has the potential to save lives. Keeping Sanford Health and the VA a step ahead in the patients’ care.
It’s possible thanks to a partnership between Sanford Heallth and Medicom that started in 2020. The company, working with the VA since 2016, is the creator of the first federated health information network in the country. While the concept may seem like common sense, Medicom CEO Michael Rosenberg says not many health systems can share medical images electronically with other organizations in 2021.
“Sanford is ahead of the curve on this,” Rosenberg said.
No more CDs
Rosenberg says Medicom’s network helps veterans avoid delays in care when needing services at multiple health systems. It takes everything that goes on in enterprise imaging and dramatically increases the speed of data transfer.
“Instead of exchanging information on paper, on CDs, or via fax – our goal is to blanket the enterprise with the tools and resources to facilitate electronic exchange,” Rosenberg said.
The sharing of information is meant to empower providers by giving them easy access to their patient’s information. Medicom doesn’t store the data. It indexes the information and makes it available via its own search engine.
A retired Navy officer, Paul Weckman goes to the VA and Sanford Health for his medical needs.
“I broke my back on active duty,” Weckman, Sanford Health Head of Military and Veteran Affairs, said.
Because of the injury, he needs new MRIs constantly. Weckman then receives treatment at Sanford Health based off that information from the VA.
“My vertebrae are changing. They always have to have updated MRIs because they have to do spinal epidurals in my back,” Weckman said.
He now has greater confidence that his doctors will have all the records they need in a timely manner.
“They can take a look at my past imaging as well and see how things have changed,” Weckman said. “A physician that is going to be working on my spine is going to have the most up-to-date information.”
Information at providers’ fingertips
Using an exchange can also cut down on administrative costs. Hours spent submitting requests and arranging delivery of CDs using couriers or the mail.
“The providers that are wanting to view the information or view the imaging. It’s at their fingertips. It’s there,” Paul Burud, executive director for Sanford Heart Fargo, says.
Burud remembers a busy time of year when Sanford Health staff needed imaging for a veteran patient in North Dakota during an emergency and couldn’t get it in time.
“Our physician tried to acquire those images and get them over but during the holiday season it was very difficult. It was an emergent situation. We were not able to,” Burud says.
With Sanford Health and the VA operating clinics next to one another in the Midwest, it provides veterans with the option to go back and forth and experience fluid care.
“It impacts the Sanford system in a big way because we have, fortunately, those (VA) systems that are in our treatment areas,” Burud says.
Passion for veterans
With a grandpa who served in World War II, Opitz hopes this connection creates higher value care for veterans.
“It warms the heart because when I look at doing things in my space, I’m always trying to have that direct patient care impact. When you’re in technology, in certain areas of technology, sometimes you’re one or two steps away from the actual ‘making a difference,’” Opitz said.
This focus on improving veterans lives through better care isn’t going anywhere.
“Bottom line, it’s the right thing to do. I can’t say it any simpler than that. The leadership here (at Sanford Health) totally understands and recognizes the sacrifices these men and women have done to protect our freedoms. That’s one way that we can show our appreciation is provide them the best, highest quality care that anyone can provide them,” Weckman said.
Nationally, Medicom believes this new way of exchanging images and accompanying clinical documents will save the VA $163-181 million per year.
“It’s work that we’re really proud of,” Rosenberg said.
The future of sharing
Every year, Medicom is adding new organizations to its network. Sanford Health can share with those systems as well. Opitz, who now works at Medicom, says it’s a big win.
“Once you’re connected with the VISN 23 network, you can essentially start connecting to all of the VA’s in that network. If Medicom has established connections with other VISN networks around the country, then you can start interconnecting the VISN networks. Literally from there, you are cascading a connection across the entire country from a veteran perspective. Which is extremely powerful,” Opitz said.
Rosenberg and Medicom see this partnership as just the beginning. He says Sanford Health conducts a half million exchanges a year using faxes and CDs. Right now, the health system is connecting to 75 other organizations through Medicom.
“We are contemplating our next project, which is to work on getting laboratory data to flow back and forth between Sanford and the VA. I see the imaging component as just the start,” Rosenberg said.
He’s grateful for the relationship with Sanford Health. Rosenberg says it’s a system willing to innovate when it comes to information technology.
“It’s just been such a refreshing relationship for us. Where we can bring new ideas, new technology and quickly innovate, quickly improve it and quickly deploy it within Sanford. Things that take years at other health systems are a couple of conversations at Sanford,” Rosenberg said.
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