Kate Monica


Connecticut’s HIE will supply patient EHR data to help identify at-risk patients as part of a three-year suicide prevention initiative.


Connecticut’s state health information exchange (HIE) — CTHealthLink — will assist in an effort to leverage patient EHR data for improved suicide prevention, according to ShoreLine Times.

The HIE will provide centralized patient health data for a project funded by a $1.9-million, three-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. As part of the Institute’s initiative — called Zero Suicide — researchers will utilize patient EHRs to identify factors that may lead to suicide and spur prevention efforts targeting at-risk individuals.

Health data included in CTHealthLink includes information gathered from physician and psychotherapist practices, as well as hospital emergency departments.

UConn Health Division of Behavioral Sciences and Community Health chairman Robert Aseltine Jr. will lead the study to help providers identify and treat patients at risk of suicide.

“It bridges mental health, general health, hospital-based care,” he told ShoreLine

According to Connecticut State Medical Society CEO Matthew Katz, suicide attempts nationwide have increased by 24 percent in the last 10 years.

“Suicide is an urgent public health problem,” said Katz. “It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. It’s the second-leading cause of death among youth. Hospitalizations for suicide attempts in Connecticut have increased 15 percent between 2005 and 2015.”

CTHealthLink will give researchers access to clinical and psychological data as well as lab test results, and prescription information. Health data contained within the state HIE will be especially helpful in identifying teenagers exhibiting symptoms of depression.

“It’s often harder to get information on teens because they’re not going to the doctor as often,” Katz said. “We’re not doing a good job today identifying teens at risk of suicide.”

“They’re the ones we need,” he continued. “Where we need the most help in this country is identifying and treating youth who are at high risk for suicide.”

The HIE will also include social determinants of health data to help researchers identify individuals that may be at an increased risk of suicide due to unemployment, homelessness, or drug use.

“It helps track that information in a way that we’ve never seen before,” said Katz.

While the project aims to streamline the identification of patients that may potentially be at risk, patients will not be considered suicidal simply because they exhibit some symptoms or are subject to certain risk factors.

“We’re not going to say that patient is at risk,” Katz said. “What we’re going to say is, you need to ask questions, you need to do some identifications to assess whether that patient is at risk.”

Researchers will use CTHealthLink data along with a predictive model to get an idea of a patient’s risk of suicide over time.

“I’m using this infrastructure to create algorithms that will predict patient risk and to identify patients at risk of suicidal behaviors and to make that information available to their physicians so they can provide appropriate treatment,” said Aseltine.

“The same kind of models I’m using for suicide risk could be used to prevent re-hospitalizations, to improve medication adherence and medication management, to prevent a recurrence of cardiac events,” Aseltine continued.

To participate in the exchange, healthcare providers need to voluntarily opt-in and pay a fee. In addition to physicians and psychologists, social workers and dentists are encouraged to participate in the HIE.

 “We have to sign up a provider at a time,” said Katz.

Katz stated researchers expect to start seeing results from the study and its effect on identifying patients at-risk of suicide within 18 months.

Quality of Care Committee Chairwoman Claudia Gruss, MD, said the study could lead to primary care physicians doing yearly screenings for depression as part of annual patient check-ups.

“Obviously if it’s abnormal then we can take it a step further and either we discuss with the patient about depression and suicide prevention or we can set up a referral to a health-care professional who specializes in psychiatry or psychological social work or somebody who deals with treating depression either cognitively or through medication,” Gruss said.

CTHealthLink was established in fall of 2017 and is a member of the KaMMCO Health Solutions Network. The physician-led HIE was established by the Connecticut State Medical Society and allows clinicians, hospitals, and other in-network providers to exchange patient EHRs and utilize data analytics tools for improved patient health outcomes.

“I’m very excited about this project,” Gruss said. “I think it can markedly improve medical care.