The eHealth Impulse
States and localities will play a key role in developing regional systems to track medical records digitally.
A new national push to improve health care by digitizing patient health records is giving birth to a batch of RHIOs.
Known formally as Regional Health Information Organizations, the groups--typically organized as nonprofits--are being formed to bring together state and local officials and health care providers within a region to sort out the details of sharing health records electronically. The goal is to save money and deliver better health care by making it easier for a doctor to know a patient's full medical history. That could minimize the risk of ordering a duplicative test, for example, or prescribing medicines that a patient is allergic to.
Pressure to digitize and share health records comes from the federal level--President George W. Bush set a goal of having an interoperable system of electronic health records within 10 years--but implementation is likely to happen locally. In July, the administration issued a report calling on regions to form RHIOs in order to begin working through issues such as funding, technology standards and privacy rules. "It's very important that states and local governments play a partnership role here," says Janet Marchibroda, head of the eHealth Initiative, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation. "Now is the time to get engaged."
As many as 140 RHIOs are in various stages of formation. One of the most advanced is in Indianapolis, where the Indiana Health Information Exchange started up last March. The nonprofit company recently launched its first product, a messaging system that doctors can use to access patient information and test results from more than a dozen local hospitals.
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