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Rural physicians benefit from federal funding

100 additional providers will implement electronic health records to improve rural health care quality, lower costs, save lives

(Athens, OH) The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine received $450,000 in federal stimulus funds to assist 100 primary care providers in southeastern Ohio with implementing
electronic health records in their practices.

“We are the first Regional Extension Center (REC) partner in the state to meet our goal, so we’ve been awarded additional funding to assist an additional 100 primary care providers,” said Brian Phillips, chief of medical informatics at OU-HCOM. Phillips is referring to 404 primary care providers who have already signed up to take part in a technical assistance and training program on implementing electronic health records systems in their practices.

Phillips said that the award funds the OU-HCOM-led Appalachian Health Information Exchange (AHIE), a voluntary association of health care providers in southeastern Ohio that seeks to develop an advanced integrated health information technology system to improve the wellness of individuals, families and communities and contribute to the nationwide health information network.

In 2010, AHIE was one of seven regional organizations in Ohio to receive federal stimulus funds to assist in the implementation of electronic health records, with an ultimate goal of better meeting state and national electronic medical record initiatives. Of the $26.8 million provided to the seven sites around Ohio, AHIE received $1.8 million to assist 404 primary care providers in 19 southeastern Ohio counties.

OU-HCOM and AHIE are the first of the organizations to sign up their total number of providers in the program. Primary care physicians – those who practice obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine or internal medicine -- and nurse practitioners and nurse midwives with the authority to prescribe medications are eligible for the assistance, he explained.

The additional funding comes from a pool of redistributed funds of the original funding grant, said J. Mark Harvey, chief information officer of Hozler Clinic in Gallipolis and chairman of the AHIE board of directors. “We’re using the funds to improve our use of the electronic tools we have, so that we can provide even better care at the least possible cost.”

Providers who participate in the program and meet a number of goals set by the federal government known as “meaningful use” – including signing a contract with an electronic medical records vendor and begin using such systems -- are then eligible for additional funding via Medicaid and/or Medicare programs.

“The providers who receive the assistance – most of whom are all in small, private practices -- do not have the time or money to research various vendors, options and systems,” Phillips said.

Phillips noted that AHIE, whose members include every major hospital and hospital system in the region, has been a pioneer in working towards development and implementation of electronic health records.

“The chief information officers and executive administrators of the hospitals were key in supporting our vision by working together,” Phillips said. “Our hospital partners played a significant role in helping us meet our goal. They are basically the leaders within their own communities for health care innovation.”

The ultimate goal, Phillips explained, is to help the providers choose a system that provides a patient’s medical records with a centralized medical “home.” Such a system would allow a physician the ability to monitor overall patient care, including referrals to other health care specialists or physicians, home health care and even prescribing prescription drugs, he said.

In addition to enhancing the delivery of medicine in our region, electronic health records can provide information about the health status in individual communities and the region, Phillips said. Such knowledge, he said, assists the college in training the highest quality primary care physicians. Also, the information can be used to expand research by OU-HCOM researchers to create new approaches to improve preventive health care and to treat chronic diseases prevalent in the region including diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016