March 1, 2011

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Off the Charts

Utah Leads in Electronic Medical Records Transition

Carolyn Campbell

March 1, 2011

When Jan Root’s 88-year-old mother broke her hip last year, “in the hoopla of admitting her to the emergency room, we forgot to tell the doctor that she takes Synthroid, a thyroid medicine,” Root recalls. “She was in the hospital for a week before we figured out that we forgot to tell them. Somehow, that information never got into the hospital’s paper records.” When Root’s mother was discharged to a physical therapy facility, the prescription information wasn’t included in the paper discharge notes. “To facilitate my mother’s receiving Synthroid, we would have needed to get the information from her primary care doctor, who issued the prescription. At the time, I could only remember that his name starts with W,” she says. Root is president and CEO of the Utah Health Information Network (UHIN), a nonprofit electronic medical records exchange that originated in 1993 through the ongoing efforts of the state legislature. She explains that her mother’s situation could have been avoided through the information exchange that electronic medical records provide. “At UHIN, we basically want to connect the dots.” If “Dr. W” had been participating in UHIN’s clinical health information exchange (cHIE), with Root’s mother’s permission, her basic health information would have been pulled into a secure electronic database from the doctor’s electronic health record. As a result, the emergency room could have accessed her primary care records. “They could send out a query, bring the information up on the screen and retrieve her prescription. It would be a way to transfer the information securely, at a time when she was under pain medication and not good for anything, and her discombobulated relatives did not have the information,” Root says. On the Forefront Root explains that because of UHIN, which currently serves all Utah hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, national laboratories and approximately 90 percent of local medical providers, Utah insurance companies and health care providers are much more tightly integrated compared to other states, giving Utah a head start on electronic medical records integration. And because 60 percent of Utah physicians already utilize electronic medical records, Root says that Utah is a national leader in health information technology. Ongoing efforts should keep Utah at the forefront of health-related IT. Utah-based HealthInsight is another company leading the way in electronic health care. As part of the federal Beacon Community Cooperative Agreement Program, HealthInsight received a grant for nearly $16 million to implement health information technology pilot projects. The nonprofit organization was one of 15 throughout the nation to receive the federal funding—part of a $2 billion effort to achieve widespread, meaningful use of health-related information technology and provide for the use of electronic health records for each person in the United States by 2014. “With the Beacon Community grant, Utah will be able to further extend health information exchange throughout the state,” says Root. In Your Hands South Jordan-based MediConnect Global is working to put health information right into the hands of patients. Amy Rees Anderson, CEO of MediConnect Global, says that Jan Root’s situation with her mother is common—but it could be circumvented if she had a personal health care record, which centralizes all of a patient’s vital health information in a secure, digital document that is accessible to both the patient and authorized health care providers. Anderson started her first medical records company in 1996, and within six months she had 30 employees. Now, nearly 15 years later, MediConnect Global is an 800-person company that retrieves and digitizes medical records worldwide for large business-to-business clients, including four of the top five U.S. insurance companies. MediConnect Global has grown more than 1,100 percent in the last six years, landing it on the Inc. 500 and Deloitte Technology Fast 500 lists. The company recently launched myMediConnect, a service that helps individuals create, store and instantly access their personal health care records through a secure online portal. MediConnect initially retrieves the health care records for the patient by contacting his or her doctors and organizing and digitizing the records before uploading them into a secure myMediConnect account. The company also helps subscribers create personalized medical reminders, communicate with doctors, track health and fitness, and receive answers to medical questions. Mobile device users can easily access personal data while on the go. Members also enjoy the ability to quickly look up medications taken previously—a handy feature when standing in line waiting to consult with a pharmacist, for example. The Obama administration selected MediConnect as one of four vendors for its Medicare pilot program. “This represents a significant move for us into the personal health records arena,” says Anderson. “We believe the global availability of health care records—wherever and whenever needed—empowers patients, improves care, reduces cost and will help make quality health care available for everyone.” Anderson foresees that not far in the future, every patient will carry a biometric USB keychain that is loaded with all of their medical information. “So no matter where they are, they will have their data with them so that they can be treated anywhere in the world at any time necessary,” she says. The potential cost savings of adopting such new technologies are massive. According to the American Medical Association, cost savings would exceed $90 billion per year if physicians and payers used electronic transactions instead of manual ones for the estimated 3 billion claims submitted annually. The AMA is now introducing programs aimed at driving adoption of electronic payment processing. Doctors can also use electronic records to become proactive in helping patients manage their care. “For example, if only 50 percent of their diabetic patients have had a foot exam in the last year, they can send the others a reminder to get a foot exam,” says Root. “We are trying to get people who are healthy today to care about their health care before they get sick,” adds Anderson.
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