Augusta, Macon hospitals build health information exchange

Though there are many miles between them, two of the state’s largest health systems are now one, at least so far as their electronic health information is concerned, and they hope many other providers and payers will join them so that patient information will flow freely to where patients need it.


Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics in Augusta and Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon will formally kick off their health information exchange today, dubbing it the Georgia Regional Academic Community Health Information Exchange.

It is actually a separate corporation from both health systems, with its own governing board, in hopes that other hospitals and providers will feel free to join, said David Hefner, the executive vice president for clinical affairs at Georgia Health Sciences University.

“So it becomes a tool for many people, payers, providers of all different kinds to participate in,” he said.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided money for states and large groups of providers to begin planning and implementing secure health information exchanges among providers such as hospitals, doctors and pharmacies. Medicare is also requiring providers to have “meaningful use” of an electronic health record by 2014 or start facing reduced payments the following year

The hope is to establish an electronic health record for every patient that can be securely shared between providers not only statewide but, eventually, nationwide. Talks among Augusta and Macon and other providers had been going on for years, said Tara Cramer, the executive director of the information exchange.

“Last summer, it went from just talk and conceptual to let’s really make this happen,” she said.

The result is a Web portal to access records uploaded to the exchange, hopefully soon for a number of providers, Hefner said: “If you started thinking about what other hospitals could be part of this, what other physician practices, what other state agencies, what other pharmacies, there are a collection of care providers you would want to have populate this system so that information could be shared more readily.”

Some invitations to join the exchange have already gone out, he said.

There are about a dozen regional efforts to form health information exchanges across the state, in various stages of development, as Georgia works on a statewide network, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

This system could serve as an example, Hefner said.

“We’re helping the state answer the question, ‘How should an information exchange look in the future?’ ” he said.

It could save money and administrative costs and improve care by having the record follow the patient. It could also help the patient’s primary care physician track the care, Cramer said.


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