Posted on: June 18, 2018

The buzz of a doctor’s pager interrupting lunch is a common sound. Now, area medical students training with physicians from Hudson Headwaters Health Network are taking advantage of modern technology to track their patients, not just their phone calls.

In fact, Dr. Colleen Quinn, Clinical Director of the Medical Education Program at Queensbury-based Hudson Headwaters, described how one student had just sat down to eat when her cell phone lit up with a real-time alert from Hixny.

Immediately, the student read the notification that one of her patients had been admitted to the emergency room (ER) at Glens Falls Hospital. She drove straight to the ER, conferred with the staff there and relayed the information to the patient’s primary care doctor. The patient was happy, the primary care doctor was happy and the student saw the benefits of using alerts from the regional health information exchange (HIE) to provide better, more efficient care.

“She was able to help facilitate the patient’s care, which made the patient feel great because the student was the link keeping that patient in the system,” Quinn explained.

The third-year student at the University of Vermont (UVM) Larner School of Medicine is part of a unique program introduced in 2017 by Hudson Headwaters, which operates a network of community health centers throughout the North Country. Participating students spend a full year in the network, following a panel of up to 50 patients for the duration of their training. Unlike typical programs, in which students spend blocks of time working in different medical disciplines, the Hudson Headwaters program encourages students to learn the practice of medicine through the experiences of their assigned patients.

“When you’re trying to teach students about the arc of healthcare and the patient experience, you really want them to be present where the patients are,” Quinn said. “The alerts really help us with the unknown. If the patient goes to the ER or is admitted to the hospital, the student gets a notification. I see a lot of potential in that.”

Quinn heard about the Hixny real-time alerts from John Dudla, Hudson Headwaters’ Director of Athena Services. For the students, most of whom are comfortable with mobile apps, Quinn found the alerts to be the right tool for real-time notifications about patient interactions—getting emergency care, being admitted to or discharged from the hospital, or getting an abnormal blood pressure or blood sugar reading.

The students—and other Hixny users who use the alerts—can contribute and review patient data on the go. The alerts keep doctors informed and the information in Hixny’s health information exchange is always up-to-date, so there’s no need to perform time-consuming searches for updated data.

Martha McGuirk, the Hixny Account Manager who works with Hudson Headwaters, noted that this combination of alerts and HIE access helps students learn more about a patient’s medical history, which guides them in making care decisions.

“Who better to find value in Hixny than medical students?” McGuirk said. “When they start their careers as physicians, they’ll say, ‘This is really helpful. HIEs are worthwhile.’”

Quinn expects the program’s new group of medical students to make the alerts part of their workflow.

A women’s healthcare specialist, Quinn has also tried the alerts for her own patients and found them useful.

“I have some very high acuity patients. It’s helpful to know, ‘Oh, they were in the hospital,’ before you actually get the hospital records,” she said.

Quinn also added that, with the students embracing the alerts’ usefulness, other providers at Hudson Headwaters have the opportunity to learn from the younger generation.