Its no accident that Tritles 720-square-foot office space is at the Arizona Medical Association. Its physical location sends an important message to Arizonans.
We feel that a lot of communications that will take place with consumers on health information exchange will be through their doctors, Tritle said, especially since it is the physicians who consumers trust most when it comes to safeguarding their medical records.
Nationally, only between 10% and 15% of physician offices have electronic health records. In Arizona, no one knows how many providers are onlinefinding out is one of Tritles first priorities, he said.
Physicians are fearful of making bad choices when it comes to IT, Landrith said, which is something that the statewide collaborative can help with.
It would be a godsend if we could access a medical summary, if not the whole medical record, in any ER in the state, Landrith said.
The state remains involved in the process. Three representatives from the state government sit on Health-e Connections board, including January Contreras, the governors health policy adviser.
The reason why this issue is so important to the governor is because our health system right now is not sustainable, Contreras said. There are some obvious tools we can use to improve the situation, such as creating a virtual medical home for every Arizonan.
Since 2005, governors in 20 states have issued executive orders on health information technology, but Arizona was among the first and other states have followed their lead in terms of how stakeholders work together, said Janet Marchibroda, CEO of the eHealth Initiative in Washington, D.C.
Arizona has been leading the charge, she said. Having a full-time executive director who is fully committed to this is a key step to success.
One major role for Health-e Connection is to support the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizonas Medicaid program, in its health information exchange initiative. The AHCCCS received a $12 million two-year transformation grant from the CMS to develop and implement a repository of Medicaid members electronic health records, with Web-based access and exchange ability.
A recent report from HHS inspector generals office identified 12 states as standing out when it comes to adopting health information technology in their statewide Medicaid programs, but Arizona wasnt included in that group (Aug. 27, p. 17). The report did say two dozen are close behind. The report also found that 25 state agenciesincluding Arizonasare involved in the planning and development of statewide health-information-exchange networks.
The AHCCCS project, which started in February, includes $700,000 in CMS funding for the Arizona Health-e Connection, which is Tritles entire budget for the next two years at this point.
Tritle said supporting RHIO initiatives in the state is also one of his priorities, and $1.5 million in state funds has been allocated for fiscal 2008 to facilitate the development of new regional exchanges. So far, only one has been formed, the Southern Arizona Health Information Exchange, or SAHIE, in Tucson launched two years ago.
Southern Arizona is on track to beat the governors 2010 deadline, said Bill Pike, director of public policy at Carondolet Health Network, a not-for-profit three-hospital system based in Tucson. Carondolet is actively involved in the SAHIE, that regions RHIO, and will soon begin evaluating vendors to help get an interoperable system up and running by mid-2008, he said.
Arizona Health-e Connection is important to not only help support regional health IT efforts but also educate the public on why electronic health records are important, Pike said.
A statewide initiative adds to the credibility of it, he said. And a state coalition can work with other states to facilitate data exchange, which is especially important in Arizona with its many snowbird residents, Pike said.
Arizona Health-e Connection wont take the place of RHIOs, however. Health information exchange projects have to take place on the local level because of the size and geography of the state, Tritle said. It takes about seven hours to drive from the northern to the southern border, and some towns are only accessible by driving through other states because of the Grand Canyon.
Under discussion now is the possibility of forming a tribal RHIO in partnership with Indian Health Services. There are about 20 tribes in Arizona, and such an endeavor would be a unique opportunity because each tribe is a sovereign nation, Tritle said.
Tritles experience working on rural health issues is one reason why he beat out 40 other strong applicants for the job, said Amanda Weaver, executive director of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association, and a Health-e Connection board member who led the search.
He certainly brings IT knowledge and a background in the public and private sector to the table, Weaver said. Hes very passionate about the cause.