State revamps women's health provider search tool


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 7:05 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 24 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- When Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the new Texas Women's Health Program would move forward without its largest single provider, it was with an assurance it would fill the void.
"I don't have a question that the capacity will be there," Gov. Perry told KVUE at a media conference in October 2012.
After state law banned Planned Parenthood along with any other organizations affiliated with abortion providers from the program offering cancer screenings and reproductive health services to low-income women, both sides have debated whether other providers could pick up the slack. 
"Almost half of the Women's Health Program patients choose Planned Parenthood," Planned Parenthood patient Emily Howell told KVUE in November. "And I don't feel there are going to be enough other providers." 
"There are so many pregnancy resource centers and women's resource centers around Austin that provide all equal services to that minus abortion," Ashley Granger said at a demonstration against Planned Parenthood in March 2012.
Last year the state released an online tool to help patients find alternatives providers, but it was quickly criticized over inaccurate listings that overstated the amount of providers available. Asked about the complaints at the same October media conference, new Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek told KVUE the issue was being checked into. 
"I have heard the same thing, and in fact, there were legitimate complaints about that," Janek said at the time.
This month the online tool was taken down and replaced with a phone number. In response, State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) filed an open records request with the Health and Human Services Commission seeking internal data concerning providers under the state run program.
"The fact of the matter is that this department has a responsibility to the public and they did not meet that responsibility," Farrar told KVUE. Since sending the request, Farrar says she was contacted by Janek and assured that the inaccuracies were being address.
"We realized there were a number of mistakes in that data," said HHSC Communications Director Stephanie Goodman. Goodman says the database was based on existing billing information and individual provider numbers never envisioned to be used as part of an online search tool. The information resulted in some non-medical offices showing up as providers, causing confusion to patients looking for a clinic.
After at least one initial attempt to fix the errors revealed a much more complicated problem, Goodman says the tool was finally disabled in order to overhaul the database. Beginning with the largest providers, the goal is to research and clean up the entire list. As for the discrepancy in numbers, Goodman explained the type of information used to construct the initial database resulted in some 6,000 listings for the 3,500 providers she says are confirmed as accepting WHP patients.
"We're going to test it first to make sure it's really good before we put it out there for women to use," said Goodman. "We've got spots for the women. We just need to make sure our ability to get them there and tell them how to use the online look-up is better." 
The tool is intended to return to the website by the end of the week, and Goodman says the commission will be tracking access and reliability as the state program is implemented. Farrar argues either way, the state will ultimately be unable to reach the same amount of women without Planned Parenthood.
"It's going to increase cost," said Farrar. "The network is just not there, and I think it's particularly in rural areas. There are going to be big holes. Women are not going to be able to access their well woman care, and you will see spikes in preventable diseases."


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