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Push on for electronic health records systems nationwide

 

by Mary Scott Nabers

CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

. . . continued from page one

In spite of the available funding, there are other problems and issues to consider. The objective is to design systems that communicate and interact so that records can be transferred, viewed and analyzed. Just as "interoperability" in communications has become a problem for law enforcement, a similar problem exists in the exchange of electronic health records. Systems in place today cannot communicate because of interoperability. Each state hopes to rectify this problem…and then the nation must do the same. Medical records need to be accessible nationwide if the concept is going to work.

The interoperability problem only grows more with delays. Those who would like to convert to electronic health records systems and those who are already testing the waters do not have similar platforms that allow sharing. While some hospitals and even some doctors' offices have implemented pilot programs, there is no guarantee that their system can interact with other electronic medical records systems. A national standard with specific guidelines is the only way to ensure nationwide communication and to enable the sharing of records.

The $19 billion comes at a good time, but it will not result in a nationwide system overnight. Texas, however, is one of many states planning to capture as much of the funding as possible.

The state has created a long-range health information technology plan, The Roadmap for the Mobilization of Electronic Healthcare Information in Texas. The state has also created what is known as the Texas Health Services Authority and charged the organization with promoting and coordinating the development of electronic health information technology. Since Texas has laid the groundwork, an infusion of federal funding would move the initiative forward quickly.

Texas Health Resources, a nonprofit, faith-based health care delivery system that serves 16 counties in North Central Texas, is implementing an electronic health records system that will serve 13 hospitals. The system is a multi-million-dollar investment that is being installed over a period of several years.

The system allows health care providers to follow the treatment of patients through intake, assessment, testing, diagnosis, treatment, medications and analysis. The first phase of this program was instituted in 2006 at the systems' Presbyterian Hospital of Plano and other facilities are in line for phased rollouts.

While these member hospitals and physicians will be able to exchange information from electronic health records among themselves, creating a network of operability statewide and nationally is another project completely. Officials with the Texas Hospital Association note that without a universal way to communicate, hospitals that install a system may just be creating "islands" of providers with very limited systems that cannot communicate or transfer files. The objective is to develop a universal way to communicate and transfer information so there is not a disjointed system.

No one believes that $19 billion is enough to implement a nationwide system, but it is definitely a start.