CHIME Fall Forum Interview Series: Charles Christian, VP, Technology & Engagement, Indiana Health Information Exchange


Charles Christian, FCHIME, LCHIME, FHIMSS, CHCIO Indiana Health Information Exchange

Innovation is high on the mind of Charles Christian, and rightly so. Christian is part of the largest health information exchange in the U.S. and is continually looking for ways to make connecting over 100 healthcare organizations simpler. His view? When all options are exhausted, the simplest solution is normally the best and most cost effective. It’s a unique perspective coming from someone who is doing the connecting rather than struggling for a connection. In this interview, Christian discusses the compelling work his organization is engaged in: From aiding the United Way in their quest to reduce infant mortality rates in particularly lower income areas, to analyzing data to target childhood obesity. Not only is Christian constantly looking for ways to improve healthcare’s information accessibility, but also healthcare’s leadership. Check out his 7 key takeaways from CHIME’s CIO Bootcamp.

CHIME Fall CIO Forum provides valuable education programming, tailored specifically to meet the needs of CIOs and other healthcare IT executives. Justin Campbell, of Galen Healthcare Solutions, had the opportunity to attend this year’s forum and interview CIOs from all over the country. Here is the next interview in the series:

Key Insights

One of the innovative capabilities we have is a smart search within our repository – likened to a google search.

In the end, we’re not willing to put the privacy and security of the data, for which we are custodians, at risk for the sake of giving someone access.

We have 3 pilots underway, where if a patient shows up in the ER at one of SHIEC’s members, information for that patient is queried to other member HIEs based upon zip code and in the case of a match, a clinical summary for that patient – often times CCD – is returned.

What we’re finding, is that the changing ambulatory landscape is making getting access to the data more challenging.

To me, the whole purpose of CHIME is to weave those networks of individuals regardless of size of organization, longevity in the business, and depth of expertise. It provides the education CIOs need to be highly successful.

Campbell: Let’s start with some background on you, your organization and your role.

Christian: I’m currently with the Indiana Health Information Exchange and have been here about 18 months. I spent 27 years as a healthcare CIO at a couple of different organizations and actually was a customer of the exchange when CIO at a southern Indiana healthcare organization.

We operate the largest health information exchange in the U.S., connecting over 100 hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, community health clinics and other healthcare providers. All said, we have 140 total data sources, connecting to over 12,000 practices and serving over 22,000 physicians and 12MM patients.

We’ve only been incorporated since 2004. Years before that, the exchange was created out of clinical need in the Indianapolis area. It was actually created by the minds at the IU Health Methodist Research Institute, one of the big health systems in Indianapolis. There was a known need for the ability to share clinical information. We’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and the data in the HIE in some cases is over 30 years old. We currently have over 9B clinical data elements stored in the HIE.

Campbell: That is incredible and impressive. What types of exchange takes place today with the HIE?

Christian: One of our core services is results delivery. We provide the nation’s largest implementation of clinical results delivery and support the Indiana Network for Patient Care, a clinical data repository accessed via IHIE’s CareWeb application.

Results are delivered to participant EMRs in one of three ways – either to a secure inbox, through HL7 integration or through fax. A lot of physician workflows are built around receiving a fax. It’s examined, sorted, indexed and filed.

Campbell: You have quite a few endpoints, which is fantastic. Tell me a bit about the process for participant onboarding.

Christian: We’ve connected to over 250 EMRs. We recently established an HL7 connection to athenahealth. That enabled us to turn on HL7 delivery to over 2000 physicians at one time. Another health system we are working with is moving from fax to electronic delivery. My goal is to have electronic delivery and HL7 for every EMR. Part of the challenge is in resourcing – setting up the feed and building the integration with the EMR. It takes some specialized technical work to execute.

Campbell: Tell me a bit more about the payload of transactions that you receive.

Christian: We currently don’t receive CCD. Instead, we predominately get ADT transactions, results, transcribed documents, or HL7 embedded with PDF. We ingest it into the repository, normalize the data and send it along to subscribing entities. Through normalization, we organize the clinical elements to present to the end users via a portal. In this way, it makes it nice for physicians to use SSO from their EMR of record to the portal, and be able to see a lab result from Methodist hospital, let’s say, sitting alongside a lab result from St. Francis Health.

One of the innovative capabilities we have is a smart search within our repository – likened to a google search. Take one of our ER physicians at Eskenazi, for example. He’s got a search protocol called “chest pain,” which pulls any recent admissions with chest pain as the chief complaint. It also pulls troponin levels, any echocardiograms, or cast studies, and delivers to him instead of the physician having to hunt for them. We are actually working with an EMR vendor to embed this capability within the system of record. In this way, we can embed a search bar and the physician can access saved searches that retrieve information based upon criteria and filters they setup.

That is just one example of the extremely creative initiatives we are working on to minimize the workload for the physicians.

Campbell: With so many sources, I imagine there is a deluge of data you are swimming in. Can you elaborate a bit about the governance processes you employ today to dictate data access?

Christian: We have a seat on the management council for The Indiana Network for Patient Care. The exchange is also a curator of the data. It’s owned by its members and there is governance across that. A group of 20 voting members are elected by the members and use cases of HIE data access are presented to the voting group. The group determines the appropriateness of data access requests and whether they meet HIPAA guidelines. This approach is used for a variety of use cases. With approved requests, a window of access is provided. Participants can always see the data they provide, but the only way full access to the record is granted is if there is a treatment relationship with the patient. We’ve had some physicians present unique use cases where they are seeing a patient, for instance, a consult with an oncologist, and they don’t have a treatment relationship with that patient. Hence they cannot access the data. I get it. If it were my family member trying to consult, there would be frustration with the impediment. However, it’s one of those balancing acts to provide secure access to the data. Same goes for organ procurement, which has about a half a dozen use cases, but we still haven’t figured out how to create the appropriate access safely. In the end, we’re not willing to put the privacy and security of the data, for which we are custodians, at risk for the sake of giving someone access.

Campbell: Thank you for elaborating on the sound approach you are using for data governance, security and access. Do you have a unique compelling use case that comes to mind that you could share?

Christian: United Way has a program – fully funded by them – where they send nurses out into the community for areas that have high infant mortality rates, particularly in the lower income areas. The nurses provide help – whatever they may need. Perhaps get them to the pediatrician’s office, for instance. United Way approached us and said it would be marvelous if they could see the corresponding data – prenatal care, course of events, C-section, those types of things – that would be helpful as part of their outreach. The problem was that they are not a HIPAA covered entity. Our attorneys helped get them covered and we stood up the program. It’s great because of the difference made in those children’s lives, especially considering they are typically low income folks that don’t have the same access others are privileged to have. It’s truly an extraordinary effort to provide help to that population.

Campbell: It’s great to hear stories like this, where health information exchange truly makes a difference in the lives of patients who need it most. What other initiatives is IHIE working on or taking part in?

Christian: We are a member of the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC), whose members are 50 of the sustainable HIEs in the country. Many of the members have different business models than we do. For instance, some are state entities, like Kentucky Health Information Exchange (KHIE), and others don’t persist data, they just transact, as with the Kansas Health Information Network (KHIN) model. Our first annual meeting was in 2015, where about a dozen of us got together to share ideas and have conversations about how we can work together, ways to share services, and how to lower operational costs.  Our country does not have an operational HIE that covers all of the market. SHIEC is the closest we have, and that covers about half of the population.

Take for instance, the Indianapolis area, where 500K people present downtown. They inevitably come to the ER. Unfortunately, the providers treat them based upon what is in the head of the patient or family members. We have 3 pilots underway, where if a patient shows up in the ER at one of SHIEC’s members, information for that patient is queried to other member HIEs. In the case of a match, a clinical summary for that patient – often times CCD – is returned. Once treatment for the patient is finished, it is bundled up with the clinical record and shipped back to the querying HIE. That is a model that can be replicated.

Campbell: That is truly an impactful initiative and I’m excited to hear where it will go – hopefully eventually providing connectivity for all of the population. Let’s shift gears a bit and discuss data persistence. With 9B clinical data elements, and metadata considerations, I imagine that creates a huge demand for storage. Do you purge any data today?

Christian: We persist data forever. We are acutely aware that it costs money to store the data, and costs money to back it up. We take our direction from our general council and we have terms and conditions built within the confines of state and federal laws for participants we receive data from. That said, we don’t have the primary record, rather we have pieces of it. In light of that, is it OK to purge or trim? It’s a good question, but it is not built into the software. We are socializing with members and asking the question “if you are going to delete data, what would it look like.” Our CMIO advisory group suggest that we don’t get rid of any of it. One of the use cases we came up with, is that if you are deceased for 5 years, and there is no new data after 5 years, then the data can be purged. All said, pursuit of purging data is a difficult boulder to push up the proverbial hill.

Campbell: It’s no secret that a lot of HIEs face solvency and sustainability issues. What does IHIE offer its members today as part of its value proposition?

Christian: Healthcare has long been very hospital centric. Hospitals were the ones who first moved to digital solutions and automated. Now we have a large number of physicians practices that are automated. We get data from them, parse that information and store it in our data repository. Consequently, the opportunity truly lies with the innovation occurring on the outpatient side. What we’re finding, is that the changing ambulatory landscape is making getting access to the data more challenging. You have urgent care offices popping up, telemedicine is gaining traction, and a lot of educational institutions use their own health clinic.

One of the initiatives we are working on is targeting childhood obesity. We are analyzing the data – such as height, weight, and age – to produce insights. Most of that data is located in the physician office record. Children have more access to physician care in a practice, particularly infants that are seeing the doc.

Campbell: Shifting gears again, let’s talk about CHIME. Tell me a bit about your experience attending this year. What did you get out of it? What were some of the things that drew you to the event?

Christian: I am actually one of the first charter members of CHIME. When I was with a small hospital in Southern Indiana, I received the call for an invitation, and thank God for it. A lot of my success in that small hospital was the result of having the privilege of standing on giants – John Glaser, Jim Turnbull, Bill Reed, Skip Hubbard. I got to know them and it was invaluable to call on them as a resource. Whenever I had a question and would send an email, they always answered it. The thing that differentiates CHIME from organizations like HIMSS, for instance, is that with HIMSS, I sit at a table with engineers, folks from telecom, people from different disciplines, whereas with CHIME, I sit down with all CIOs, and I know a lot of them very well. I only get to see my good friends once or twice a year, and it is vital to collaborate with them and gain their perspective and opinion.  It’s truly a privilege being on the faculty. In fact, it reminds me of a story. Buddy Hickman, a faculty member as well, and close personal friend of mine, is someone I know I can go to if I’m struggling with life or a work issue. We got together one Friday night as we were about to begin CHIME boot camp, and we got to talk about a personal issue. We huddled and shared each other’s stories. It’s really consultation group therapy. I left that critical conversation ready to rock and roll.

To me, the whole purpose of CHIME is to weave those networks of individuals regardless of size of organization, longevity in the business, and depth of expertise. It provides the education CIOs need to be highly successful. There is no fantasy that members take all the advice offered, however, if 1/10 of it sticks, they’ll be in great shape. As I mentioned previously, the beauty of it, is that I look at these people who work in prestigious organizations – some of the most noble men and women – and they are more than willing to give time they don’t have. CHIME has been accused of being a fraternity or sorority of sorts – an exclusive club – and my response is “And….?” To me, that is the draw and the beauty of CHIME. I remember being on the board for the first time in the early 2000s and I was in charge of membership where we were struggling to get to 900 members. We’re now up over 2000 members.

Campbell: You certainly have a wealth of experience and expertise surrounding pertinent healthcare information technology issues. Given the broadness of the field, is there a particular area of initiative you are working on to advance information technology in healthcare?

Christian: I’m working on a piece around predictions – many around interoperability. I have this feeling of the sirens calling me to a shipwreck. My view is that when all other options are exhausted, the simplest solution is the best and will cost the least. However, I have no delusions that I have a biased opinion, that’s to say, I have a view of the topic that is different. When you typically read about HIE – both the noun and the verb are used interchangeably, and that isn’t appropriate. A friend of mine, Dr. Josh Vest, Associate Professor of Health Policy & Management, IU, is conducting research on HIEs, classifying them: Are they private/enterprise? Are they a state entity or a community-based? He was originally shopping around the idea to fund it, but as happens all-to-frequently, there is not that much money when you are researching. He instead decided to take the research on pro-bono even though he has very well-funded research. I remain very interested in the results he finds.

About Chuck Christian
Charles Christian, serves as Vice President of Technology and Engagement Indiana Health Information Exchange, which provides the nation’s largest implementation of clinical results delivery in the country (DOCS4DOCS Service).  Christian has spent 40 years working in healthcare, including 26 years as CIO at Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Indiana, where he led the development and implementation of an EHR system and other IT initiatives. He also worked for Compucare and Baxter Travenol, in both management and implementation roles. Prior to his current appointment, Christian was vice president and CIO of St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga.

Christian is a charter member and 2015 Board of Trustees Chair of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), and served as Chairman of the Board of Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in 2008. In 2010, Christian was recognized by CHIME and HIMSS with the industry’s most prestigious honor: the John E. Gall Jr., CIO of the Year Award.  He was also honored by the Indiana Chapter of HIMSS with an award in his name: the Charles E. Christian Leadership Award. 

About Justin Campbell
Justin is Vice President, Strategy, at Galen Healthcare Solutions. He is responsible for market intelligence, segmentation, business and market development and competitive strategy. Justin has been consulting in Health IT for over 10 years, guiding clients in the implementation, integration and optimization of clinical systems. He has been on the front lines of system replacement and data migration, is passionate about advancing interoperability in healthcare and harnessing analytical insights to realize improvements in patient care. Justin can be found on Twitter at @TJustinCampbell and LinkedIn.

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