Still, opportunities to improve the quality of care through HIEs are immense, the panel said. For instance, HIEs can enhance emergency care because of the information gained by accessing an unconscious patient's medical records. HIEs can also help improve care for patients who don't have a regular care provider, and lower costs by reducing duplicate testing for patients who move from one provider to another, as is often the case among safety net facilities, according to the report.
The opportunities for safety net providers to develop HIEs, including participation in regional health information organizations, or RHIOs, is even greater today with the February signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $19 billion toward health information technology development, according to Mathematica.
Industry-standard HIE knowledge sources may be unaffordable for safety net providers, and not geared toward their specific needs. For instance, panel members said that programs sponsored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society were too costly. A rural provider commented that these programs "may not map to the rural experience," according to the report.
Some safety net provider HIEs are already out there, and could serve as models for others. They include KC CareLink in Kansas City, Mo., and the Integrated Care Collaboration in Austin, Texas. Both are funded with membership fees and have helped providers improve efficiencies and reduce costs, the report said.
"HIE has potential for improving the quality and efficiency of healthcare services, but we need to take special care to ensure than our most vulnerable citizens are not left out," said Suzanne Felt-Lisk, lead author of the paper and senior health researcher at Mathematica, in a written statement.
The panel offered 10 ways to help safety net providers adopt HIEs, including creating a mobile education team to travel to rural areas to educate staff about implementing health IT and HIEs, providing free or inexpensive training videos and having the federal government provide clear legal advice on health IT issues.
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