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Photo: David J. Brailer, M.D., Ph.D., (right) converses with OU-COM Dean Jack Brose, D.O., during a break at the “RHIOhio: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Ohio” conference at Baker University Center, Sept. 17 and 18.



Gov. Strickland advances health care information technology initiative at OU-COM’s RHIOhio conference

by Kevin M. Sanders
Sept. 26, 2007

The future of Ohio’s health information digital highway received a big boost Monday when Gov. Ted Strickland signed an executive order forming the Ohio Health Information Partnership Advisory Board. The board is charged with creating an operational plan and a business proposal to create a public/private organization to coordinate a strategy for using electronic health records and health information exchange.

Janetta King, policy director for Governor Strickland, announced the establishment of the board before a group of more than 150 leaders in health care, policy and technology attending the “RHIOhio: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Ohio” conference. The conference, which took place Sept. 17 and 18 in Athens at Ohio University, brought together conference participants to examine the opportunities and challenges of deploying electronic medical information systems and forming regional health information organizations (RHIOs) in rural areas of Ohio. The conference was organized by Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

RHIOs are seen as the likely building blocks that will allow for the secure digital exchange of electronic medical records across the state.

Part of the governor’s Turnaround Ohio plan, King explained that utilizing information technologies in health care, including electronic medical records, is an important goal of the Strickland administration. They envision all types of providers — hospitals as well physicians in private practice, practitioners treating behavioral as well as physical conditions and those being paid by Medicaid as well as private insurance — using information technologies to provide better, more accessible and less expensive health care.

“I think we are all here today because we understand the many, many benefits of establishing a health IT infrastructure and sharing health information, including efficiency, quality, cost savings, and — important for rural areas — increasing access and making it easier to navigate the system as patients travel to and from different providers and health systems,” King said.

 “The board is important because it is a public/private partnership that begins to centralize all the disparate projects and discussions involving the development of health information exchange in Ohio,” said Brian Phillips, chief information officer at OU-COM and conference chairman. “It involves the Strickland administration in the wide range of efforts that are occurring at local and regional levels and provides the basis for effective statewide coordination.”

David J. Brailer, M.D., Ph.D., the former National Coordinator for Health Information Technology under the Bush administration, highlighted the opportunities and challenges inherent in bridging the digital divide in rural communities in his keynote address at the conference.

Health information technology (HIT), he said, can increase the capacity of physicians to see more patients, break down geographical barriers to health care access, improve the quality of health care and reduce the cost of health care, all of which are important to rural providers and consumers.

Although government can be a key player in the advance of health information exchange, he said, “Don’t wait on the government to do this for you. No one can do this better than you in your own state and community. You may not feel this way, but you are all pioneers.”

Brailer sees state leaders such as governors and legislators helping to support those in the forefront of implementing HIT.

“The ability and willingness of providers to adopt health information technology are affected by several factors, one of which is cost,” said William Hayes, Ph.D., president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. Hayes had worked with the governor’s office to develop the executive order which established the board.

 “I hope (the board) will bring added attention from leaders across the spectrum, and potentially, it makes it easier to get the financial commitment needed to launch and sustain the effort to fully implement health information exchange,” said Hayes.

The conference, he said, should spur more of the necessary collaboration and networking to take place across the state.

“RHIOhio will build momentum (for health information exchange) in other parts of Ohio as well as Southeastern Ohio.”

“HIT holds much promise,” said Alvin Jackson, M.D., ODH director, “as an important tool for making significant improvements to our health care system and, ultimately, to improving health status and reducing disparities for citizens of the state of Ohio.”

Two of the many benefits HIT offers, said Jackson, were improved access to health information for both patients and providers, including the ability for multiple providers treating the same patient to gain quick access to relevant histories, lab results and other information, and automated clinical decision support that is evidence-based and incorporates the latest in medical research.

ODH, he said, is committed to assisting rural HIT implementation efforts by helping to assess needs, build coalitions, coordinate efforts and identify resources throughout Ohio.

“The fact is that people in rural areas of Ohio face significant access barriers to care,” said U.S. Representative Zack Space from Ohio’s 18th Congressional District.  “Using telemedicine technology, we can give people access to medical treatment they would not otherwise have.

“I have been working very hard in Congress to provide incentives and free up resources to help bridge the digital divide disproportionately affecting rural Ohio.

“Failure is simply not an option.”

Conference sponsors included The Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, Horizon Telecom, Gateway, OhiONE, OhioHealth, Ohio Hospital Association and the Governor’s Office of Appalachia.

 
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