The Department of Community Health is investing $1.7 million of federal stimulus funds in the Georgia Cancer Coalition's attempt to develop a network in which cancer patients, their doctors and the city's two hospitals share electronic copies of medical records.
Similar exchanges are being tried by medical providers in Savannah, Evans and Atlanta. In March, the department received a $13 million federal grant to establish a statewide network for providers to exchange patient data.
What's unique about the Rome trial is the involvement of the patient, said Rick Ratliff, a member of the Commission for Certification of Health Information Technology and an executive with consulting firm Accenture.
"The real, end goal here is for the patient to be engaged in their health care. The more information, the more the patient and the family can be engaged," he said.
Only half of Georgia's doctors have records stored electronically. Of those who do, the various programs they installed can't communicate with those sold by competing software companies.
National interoperability standards are being established, but replacing existing machines, or getting physicians to buy a computer in the first place, won't happen without some trial and error.
That's what the Cancer Coalition is doing.
Cancer patients make logical test subjects because they have a real motivation to improve their health, said Philip Lamson, a consultant with the coalition.
Rome made sense as a start because the two hospitals, the nonprofit Floyd Medical Center and the for-profit Redmon Regional Medical Center, were willing to cooperate, and the local Harbin Clinic of specialists was already using electronic records. Plus, all three entities were already cooperating on a similar project with the Cancer Coalition to collect patient statistics.
The new experiment will forward those statistics, gleaned from data exchanged between the providers and patients, to a central database being developed to track the incidence of cancer, its treatment and prevention. The type of stats collected came from a study the Cancer Coalition commissioned from the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Science.
The man who led that study, Dr. Joseph Simone, isn't sure the Rome experiment will succeed.
"I hope they've got a couple of billion dollars," he said. "People have talked about doing this forever."
The people talking about it include President Obama and the members of Congress who enacted federal health reform. The plan counts on it working because it relies on savings projected from eliminating duplicate diagnostic tests and patients using the information to take better care of themselves and shop for doctors.