Expending time and energy working separately within electronic health records (EHR) and legal case management systems (CMS) can be a huge operational stumbling block for medical-legal partnerships; it can also mean missed chances for communication and follow-up. A Montana-based MLP has secured a Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation to integrate their EHR and CMS electronically so that information can be sent directly between the systems. As the first MLP to make this shift, Montana Legal Services Association, four community health centers, and the Montana Primary Care Association, hope to increase their efficiency sharing information. This grant also covers similar work in Iowa where Iowa Legal Aid will bridge their CMS with Iowa Primary Care Association and two community health centers’ EHR.
Once the bridge is built between the EHR and legal CMS, the health center staff can complete screening tools for patients, the HIPPA release, and a legal authorization from the health center in the EHR, and send it directly into Montana Legal Services Association’s case management system, eliminating the need for a fax and separate data input. The legal partner can then send follow-up information back to the health center about the date the case was closed as well as the outcome of the referral and the services the patient received.
The partners hope that the project decreases administrative work, allowing for more referrals, more complete data collection, and better information-sharing. The technology should allow the legal-needs screening and referral process to be better integrated into the health center workflow, and could lead to increased overall screening frequency.
Although sharing information in this way may raise concerns around data privacy compliance, legal and health center partners have worked together from the beginning of this process to ensure security on both sides. Already familiar with social determinants of health screening through the use of the PRAPARE tool, the medical side of the partnership was equally interested in a type of a technology that would allow information to be gathered electronically and be shared more easily across the partnership. Ongoing and open communication brought the team together to apply for and receive this grant that could potentially have ground-breaking implications for the MLP field.