HHS Grants Aim to Ease Data Sharing Among Rural Health Providers

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media , September 14, 2011

Groom and LaPolt said that the grant will help Bassett and its partners become interoperable and eventually, achieve meaningful use. The first step will be establishing a multidisciplinary governance structure to support the initiative. Then, the focus will turn to implementation.

According to Groom, two-thirds of the network members have not yet purchased or implemented a complete EHR system; others are at different stages of implementation, have different health IT capabilities, and varying access to capital.

"Network partners share a common problem," Groom said. "Each organization's pursuit of an EHR outside a network structure has resulted in a lack of interoperability across systems."

Rural health access and IT development seem be high on the White House's priority list. Last month, the government expanded eligibility for the National Health Service Corps as part of President Obama's  jobs initiative for rural America. More than 1,300 critical access hospitals across the country are expected to benefit from the expanded loan repayment program, which is aimed at boosting physician recruitment. In June, an executive order created the White House Rural Council, which counts improving healthcare quality and access as among its priorities.

Groom said the network aims to have infrastructure and support resources in place within the next one to three years; that includes having a functioning master patient index among providers, progressing with interoperability, exchanging data, and having a common demographic record for the patients.

"Both to satisfy the grant and in our goals for quality and complete patient records," he said.

Click here for a full list of grantee organizations.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is a managing editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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