Georgia moves toward state HIE initiative

The state of Georgia is entering the health information exchange game with funding awarded to four organizations to develop electronic medical records.

Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council; East Georgia Healthcare Center, Swainsboro; Sumter Regional Hospital; and Washington County Regional Medical Center and Extended Care Facility, Sandersville, will share more than $800,000 in matching state grants to develop a health information exchange. Sumter Regional and Washington County Regional will develop an electronic medical record while East Georgia Health will create e-prescribing and Chatham County implements both an EMR and e-prescribing.

The grant recipients were chosen out of eight applicants through a review process, based on financial need, project type and collaborations with other healthcare organizations. The Health Information Technology and Transparency Advisory Board and the Georgia Department of Community Health will oversee the HIE initiatives over the next two years. This is the first substantial investment by the state department in developing the HIE efforts, officials said.

"Our goal is to improve healthcare delivery for patients and to support healthcare professionals in their use of technologies that provide a timely and secure flow of appropriate health information," said Rhonda Medows, commissioner of the community health department. "These efforts will contribute to more efficient, daily office practice and to improved care coordination across different providers and their associated payers."

Several states are developing information networks in response to a federal mandate to create a national, interoperable exchange of healthcare information by 2014. However, HIEs continue to struggle through development efforts across the country as healthcare stakeholders attempt to determine whether information exchange models can be self-sustaining after grant funding has run out. Some exchanges this year have stopped their efforts, citing lack of funds; the Plano, Texas-based Patient Safety Institute closed its doors when it couldn't find investments to test its Seattle-area HIE model on a national scale.

An October report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation said part of the problem is the lopsided benefits of adopting electronic records; hospitals are required to bear the start-up costs, but receive few advantages of using electronic information.

The Georgia initiative, which began last year as an executive order by the governor, hopes to determine best practices in information exchange and replicate the model developed among the four initial grantees across healthcare organizations through the state over the next two years, Medows said.

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