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Software gives migrant workers on-line access
Health information can be stored securely
When Cynthia Solomon’s hydrocephalic son required care at a hospital far from his hometown, doctors had a difficult time treating his condition because they had difficulty obtaining information about his medical history and prior treatment.
"He has two shunts and so is shunt-dependent," Solomon says. "I was not with him, and the hospital didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know where the shunts were, and they couldn’t reach his neurosurgeon. It was a mess."
Although health care providers were eventually able to track her down and get some background information, it was difficult for her to convince the hospital staff to discuss her son’s condition with her because he was an adult.
Following her son’s close call, Solomon, the founder of Sonoma, CA-based Medical Management Resources Inc. (MMR), a software company and consulting firm specializing in medical information applications, decided on a path toward a new product line. Her solution: a program that allows people to securely store medical information on-line.
"People don’t realize what can happen if you are traveling out of town or seeking care in an unfamiliar place, and health care providers don’t have access to your medical information," she says, "particularly, people with special needs’ kids or elderly parents with chronic medical conditions."
FollowMe, the product that Solomon’s company developed (www.followme.com), allows users to establish a password-protected profile. That profile contains information about a person’s medical conditions, health care history, allergies, and medications. A companion ID card can be printed out that informs health care providers of any chronic medical conditions a person has, what medications they are taking, and how to access the larger profile on-line, in the event of an emergency.
All types of medical information can be securely stored, she adds. Solomon’s son has a copy of a CAT scan available on his profile, so that physician’s accessing his information can tell where his two shunts are located.
The company is on its third version of the software and is customizing it based on requests from users and physicians who have seen the application.
"We thought we might get resistance from doctors, but we haven’t at all," she says. "They are asking for enhancements, like when they enter information, they want it to be in a read-only’ field. That makes sense for us, and we can do that."
Visitantes Información Acceso is born
They also are customizing the product for other patient populations. In particular, a grant through Vineyard Worker Services, a nonprofit group that works with migrant agricultural workers in the Sonoma Valley, has allowed MMR to develop a new product targeted to migrant farmworkers, called Visitantes Información Acceso (VIA; www.vwsvia.org).
The software provides the same service that the basic FollowMe software does, except that it is bilingual and has the addition of some other elements to the web site that allow the workers to look up additional information.
The system stores workers’ medical information, such as previous physician or hospital visits, prescriptions, immunization records, and diagnoses and treatment plans, eliminating the need for the migrant workers to collect and maintain copies of paper medical records.
"We are a consulting firm, and I work with public health and community-based foundations around special needs populations like the uninsured, elderly, and disabled," explains Solomon. "The migrant farmworkers are a key population here because we are in the Sonoma Valley."
The software is particularly applicable to the needs of this population because the workers move around so much, making it necessary for the individual families to keep track of health care visits in many different sites and settings.
"We’ve just started enrolling people in VIA, and we’ve already discovered that they find a number of the features useful in ways that we didn’t anticipate," she says. "They really love the physician’s digital signatures on immunization records that can be used for school enrollment. And the ID cards [with the medical information] have pictures and can be used as picture IDs."
Because the service comes with a free web-based e-mail account, to allow access to the medical profile, some workers have already been able to better interface with the health care system, she adds.
"We had one person who had filed an insurance claim and was not getting reimbursed," she notes. "But when he got the e-mail address, which he can accessed through the Vineyard Worker Services office, he had means of communicating with the company. They started responding to him because he had a definite address and way to be reached, and his claim was eventually paid."
The ID cards have been particularly attractive for immigrant families, and during the process of filling out forms to get family members on-line, the coordinators ask about insurance coverage for children in the family, Solomon adds.
"If they discover a child is not covered, they can tell the parent about Healthy Children [California’s program for covering uninsured or underinsured minors] and get them enrolled," she says.
All of the information collected by FollowMe and VIA is stored securely and encrypted according to specifications mandated by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, even though MMR is not a covered entity.
Soon, Solomon believes, most Americans will be storing and tracking their own health information this way.
"I’ve seen the way the provider-based [on-line information] systems are going," she notes. "There are about 30-40 out there, and they are not compatible with each other. If I have an internist here, and an OB/GYN in another town — and they’re all on different systems. I don’t have access to the information on those systems. Our health system is so fragile, and most of us don’t know where our medical records are and how they are maintained. We are going to have to take that responsibility."
Cynthia Solomon, CEO, Access Strategies Inc., 639 Third St. W., Sonoma, CA 95476.