County commissioners set deadline for Atrium Health to resolve data sharing issue

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 21, 2021

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners has given Atrium Health 30 days to resolve an electronic medical record sharing issue with the county’s Emergency Medical Services Department before it takes action.

Rowan EMS operates seven stations throughout the county, and its ambulances are dispatched to transport and provide medical support for patients during emergencies.

The problem between Rowan EMS and Atrium Health arose in late 2019 when the county was no longer able to receive patient outcome data back from health care provider’s facilities. 

Not having access to electronic health records typically shared between hospitals and EMS personnel prevents paramedics from knowing what happens to patients once they are dropped off at an Atrium Health facility.

“If we transport someone to a facility today and we think they’re having a stroke, if we treat them for a stroke and then we go to (Novant Health Rowan Medical Center), we’re able to go back in a day or two and see what the diagnoses was and what treatment they received in the facility,” said Lennie Cooper, Rowan EMS division chief.

Having access to information about patient outcomes serves as a quality control measure for Rowan EMS.

“It helps us know if we did the right thing, for lack of a better term, and it helps us modify the way we do things to provide better care,” Cooper said.

Bradley Dean, Rowan EMS training officer, said having the outcome data “helps the next patient that you take care of just as much as the patient you just dropped off.”

Cooper said every medical facility Rowan EMS transports patients to shares data with the department, except for Atrium Health.

“What’s happened with Atrium is they just turned it off,” Cooper said. “We don’t have access to it. When we transport a patient there, we don’t get that feedback.”

The information stopped being shared when Atrium Health changed its electronic record management system in September 2019.

“They made a switch on that and the links weren’t in place to allow that two-way data exchange and they have not worked to restore it,” Cooper said.

At first, the change prevented the sharing of health records both ways. However, Rowan EMS has since been able to repair the electronic link on its end and continues to share patient data with Atrium Health, which Dean said improves the “continuum of care.” 

The lack of electronic health record sharing also has implications for patients who are COVID-19 positive. When the pandemic began, Rowan EMS stopped transporting COVID-19 positive patients to facilities outside the county, such as Atrium Health Cabarrus, unless the situation was life-threatening or they were already receiving treatment for the medical condition at a certain facility.

Cooper said that the lack of outcome data record sharing is the reason why Rowan EMS instituted that policy because the department can’t perform contact tracing without having access to patient outcome data.

Representatives from Rowan EMS and Atrium Health met virtually and discussed the data sharing problem more than a dozen times throughout 2020, but no resolution was reached. Cooper said that representatives from ESO, the Austin-based company the county uses for its electronic health data, tried to intervene to no avail.

As a last ditch effort to encourage Atrium Health to fix the situation, Rowan EMS requested that the Board of Commissioners pass a resolution to encourage the health care provider to come to the table. The resolution included provisions that Dean said would lead to Rowan EMS continuing to “alter patient destinations” if no agreement is reached.

Commissioners were poised to pass the resolution on Monday, but removed it from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

“We’re pulling this off to give Atrium Health time to accommodate what we need from them to serve our citizens with an emergency service center,” Commissioner Craig Pierce said. “Within 30 days, if they haven’t complied, we will run this again.”

Atrium Health has signified that it wants to fix the situation. Cooper said a representative from the health care provider has scheduled a meeting at the end of March with him and other Rowan EMS staff members to discuss the situation.

“Atrium reached out to me directly about the problem and wanted to make a commitment to get it fixed,” Cooper said.

Asked for a comment, Atrium Health provided The Post with the following statement: “Atrium Health Cabarrus was recently made aware of concerns from Rowan County EMS regarding patient electronic medical records (EMR). We are working with county and EMS leaders to address those concerns and ensure critical, frontline medical workers have the information they need while serving the community. We are proud to be a partner in this community for more than 80 years and look forward to working with the county toward a solution that is acceptable for everyone and upholds the safety and privacy of every patient in our care.”