Millions in federal funding will allow Tennessee and Georgia to expand health information technology programs already under way, state officials said.
In both states, new grants from the economic stimulus package and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support initiatives to encourage doctors' use of paperless electronic medical records, as well as create information exchanges to allow data-sharing among providers.
Grants from the U.S. Department of Labor, also announced this month, will fund efforts to assist providers in getting online and train more workers in the health care field.
Memphis-based QSource, a nonprofit quality improvement organization, has been awarded $7.3 million to work with doctors, particularly in rural areas, to implement electronic health records systems, said Jennifer McAnally, director of the group's regional extension center that will be established using the new funding. Eventually, the doctors will be connected to an information exchange so they can share patient data with other providers, she said.
HEALTH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY GRANTS
* $11.7 million -- State of Tennessee, to develop health information exchange
* $7.3 million -- QSource, to help providers use electronic health records
* $5 million -- Centerstone of Tennessee, a behavioral health care provider, to offer health care job skills training*
* $13 million -- Georgia Department of Community Health, to develop statewide exchange
* $19.5 million -- Morehouse School of Medicine, to offer health care job skills training*
* U.S. Department of Labor grants
"A lot of these practices, they don't have that (health IT) expertise in-house. They don't even have it in their community," she said. "What we're out there to do is to assist the practices ... so they have a much smoother transition than trying to do it on their own. We will be their health IT consultants."
The consulting will cost the doctors a "minimal fee," as the organization -- now funded mostly by grants -- works to becomes self-funded, Ms. McAnally said.
Tennessee will use much of its $11.7 million grant to support the nonprofit Health Information Partnership for Tennessee, which is building the infrastructure for a statewide information exchange that clinicians could use to share patient data.
Dr. B.W. Ruffner, the group's treasurer, said already existing networks in some regions of the state will eventually be linked into a statewide exchange.
In Georgia, $13 million in stimulus funding will also help fund a statewide information exchange, said Dr. Carladenise Edwards, state health information technology coordinator.
Before getting word on the recent grant, Georgia just last month launched its own pilot health information exchange for a group of 30 Medicaid providers, Dr. Edwards said. Now with the new federal funds, Georgia will build a statewide exchange open to all providers, using feedback from the pilot project to inform the development of the broader exchange, she said.
The long-term savings from electronic health records are hard to quantify since many of the cost benefits will be in the form of savings from reduced medical errors and duplicated tests, said Tennessee Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz. But the advantages will be most evident in more coordination of care as providers get quick access to medical histories of their patients, he said.
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...