Software developers at the Wright State Research Institute have developed a system that may dramatically streamline Social Security disability claims.
The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates an individual’s claim for disability benefits; the system will soon use electronic medical records to reduce the decision time from 100 days or more to as little as 48 hours. Researchers at Wright State have dubbed their health information exchange “HealthLink.” They developed it under a $750,000 contract with the SSA. The agency awarded a total of $17.4 million in contracts to 15 health care companies for electronic medical records as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“The use of Health IT will dramatically improve the speed, accuracy and efficiency of this process, reducing the cost of making a disability decision for both the medical community and the American taxpayer,” said SSA commissioner Michael J. Astrue.
HealthLink launched as a pilot program in December, 2011, with 500 doctors. During the trial, which lasted nine months, HealthLink averaged one Social Security eligibility determination per doctor per month without incident.
The SSA’s Health IT program is an effort to bring greater speed and power to the agency’s disability eligibility determination process by harnessing the potential of electronic medical records. The records are sent through the Nationwide Health Information Network.
Each year, the SSA receives over 3 million disability claims. To determine eligibility, it requests over 15 million medical records from about one half million health care providers. Currently, the vast majority of those records are transmitted by mail or fax. Electronic records provide huge savings not just in time, but also in the labor and supplies associated with the tasks of printing, copying and mailing records.
Just as with paper medical records, the release of electronic medical records requires patient authorization. HealthLink developers said that they have implemented comprehensive security protocols regarding worker access, physical security, and data transmission. The computer hardware that runs HealthLink is located in HIPAA-certified facilities on campus at Wright State.
HealthLink developers say that the system generates revenue and is commercially viable. They have seen interest in creating an independent commercial entity based on the system. HealthLink is available to doctors who use the Internet-based medical records system known as athenaClinicals, and Wright State is seeking additional users of the system to expand HealthLink’s network. The research institute also plans to support competing records system EpicCare.
The creators of Health Link say they hope to be a leader in the nascent industry of electronic medical records.