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Guide to North Carolina’s HealthConnex

Guide to North Carolina’s HealthConnex

In 2009, a federal law was passed to promote the electronic movement and use of health information among health care providers.  To further facilitate the electronic sharing of health information, in 2015, the General Assembly of North Carolina established the state-managed Health Information Exchange Authority; the NC HIEA oversees and administers the Health Information Exchange Network. The NC HIEA also operates North Carolina’s state-designated health information exchange, NC HealthConnex.  In this post, we have compiled everything North Carolina providers need to know about what NC HealthConnex means for your wellness business.  

What is North Carolina HealthConnex? 

North Carolina’s HealthConnex is a new, modernized health information exchange.  Its mission is to “link every healthcare provider in North Carolina” in order to “improve healthcare quality and outcomes.”  Essentially,  the HealthConnex portal is a tool that links disparate healthcare systems and already existing HIE networks together to deliver a holistic view of patient records.  Healthcare providers can access patient health information recorded by other providers electronically using NC HealthConnex, including records, labs, diagnostics, medical history, allergies, and more.  

The hope is that NC HealthConnex will create more efficient and effective patient care across the state of North Carolina.  Sharing patient health information should result in less duplicative testing, more efficient and accurate diagnoses, recommendations, and treatment, and improved coordination across all levels of care. In addition, NC HealthConnex will incorporate value-added services to the network to further improve patient care:

  • Direct, secure messaging: Participants can send secure, encrypted messages between providers via the HealthConnex portal, or an XDR message exchange integrated directly into the provider’s EHR
  • Provider Directory: Participating providers will have access to a secure directory of emails of other NC HealthConnex participants

Who is required to connect? 

If you are a healthcare system receiving state funds for the provision of healthcare services (i.e. Medicaid, NC Health Choice, State Health Plan) you are required to connect to NC HealthConnex by a certain deadline. In May of 2020, Governor Roy Cooper passed the COVID-19 Recovery Act, which extended the original June 1, 2020 connection deadline to October 1, 2021.  Any system with an original deadline of June 1, 2021, must still be connected by that deadline; this includes ambulatory surgical centers, dentists, state labs, pharmacies, and state health care facilities.  There is currently a large queue of providers looking to get connected, and connection can take up to 12 months. 

If you have filed your participation agreement and have shown a good-faith effort to connect to NC HealthConnex, but fall under the June 1, 2021 deadline, you may be eligible for an extension to October 1, 2021.  The NC HIEA encourages all provides impacted by the HIE Act to initiate the process of showing their good-faith effort to meet the new connection requirements so that they can receive the extension and connect properly.  

Currently, there are more than 80 EHRs live in production within HealthConnex, with another 200 in the process of being added.  

Since the introduction of NC HealthConnex in 2015, certain providers are also no longer required to connect to the system anymore.  They may voluntarily submit data by signing the participation agreement if they so choose. 

  • Community-based long-term services and supports providers, including personal care services, private duty nursing, home health, and hospice care providers
  • Intellectual and developmental disability services and supports providers, such as day supports and supported living providers
  • Community Alternatives Program waiver services (including CAP/DA, CAP/C, and Innovations) providers
  • Eye and vision service providers
  • Speech, language, and hearing service providers
  • Occupational and physical therapy providers
  • Durable medical equipment providers
  • Nonemergency medical transportation service providers
  • Local education agencies and school-based health providers

Another exception to the 2021 deadlines is the DHHS Hardship Extension Process.  This applies to any provider for whom acquiring and implementing an EHR system and subsequently connecting to the HIE Network would constitute an undue hardship.  They would have until December 31, 2022, and must be live and sending data by January 1, 2023. 

As for patients, they do have the option to opt-out of having their information shared through NC HealthConnex.  They can do so by filling out the “Opt-Out” form on the NC HIEA website. 

How to Get Connected

According to the state’s mandate, a Medicaid provider is fully connected when its clinical and demographic or claims data pertaining to the services paid for by Medicaid and other state-funded health care funds are being sent to NC HealthConnex, at least twice daily - either through a direct connection or via a hub.  Participants must also be including all the locations and organizations they are sending data to NC HealthConnex on behalf of, in order to maintain compliance. 

To begin the process of getting connected, there are a few steps you need to take:

  • Put proper technology in place: Prior to sending in your application, you must have an adequate EHR set up within your practice.  The NC HIEA requests that EHRs be minimally capable of sending HL7 messages, version two or higher.  Additionally, while not required, the NC HIEA prefers that you use EHRs that are ONC certified
  • Submit the Participation Agreement: Each new facility is required to sign a participation agreement governing its connection to NC HealthConnex.  The Participation Agreement includes a Business Associates Agreement, staff contact information, participating entities, notices, among other information. You can submit the Participation Agreement can be submitted through email or paper mail. 

Once you are connected, there are two ways to get access to HealthConnex.  The first is through HealthConnex’s clinical portal.  The NC HIEA provides portal training to designated users, and prepare staff to educate patients about their participation.  The second way is through a possible EHR integration.  The NC HIEA team is currently working with several different EHR vendors to integrate the portal with pre-existing EHRs.  

Healthie’s EHR and Practice Management Platform

With Healthie’s built-in EHR feature, providers can easily get connected to NC HealthConnex and begin sending personal health information across the state:

  • Form Library: Includes templates of wellness intake forms, HIPAA-disclaimers, cancellation policies, and more
  • Customizable Forms: Customize any library form or utilize Healthie's easy Form Builder to create your own charting templates, client forms, and more
  • Intake Flows: Create flows of electronic paperwork that can be triggered to send to clients, for electronic completion and submission
  • E-Fax: Fax a nutrition assessment, progress notes, lab work, and more for overall improved communication with your clients’ care team
  • E-Labs: Providers have the ability to include a variety of lab tests from Quest Diagnostics directly within their packages.  Clients are able to purchase the package, have the testing done, and get the results sent back to both their and your Healthie portals. 

Healthie’s EHR is fully equipped to store and share patient information in order to be compliant with NC HealthConnex. Get started with Healthie, the all-in-one practice management solution for wellness professionals.

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