The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday April 1st

UNC leads in digitizing health records

Hospitals launch info exchange with IBM

Doctors are increasingly trading paper charts for digital ones, and UNC’s leading the transition through two different efforts.

On one part of campus, UNC Hospitals — working with IBM — launched a new health information exchange last month, making health information easily accessible to health care providers.

The exchange will allow a patient’s medical records to follow the referrals and discharges through UNC Hospitals’ medical centers within a master index, cutting redundancies in different office systems, said J.P. Kichak, chief information officer for UNC Hospitals.

“It will reduce cost in the long run and allow for better patient care,” Kichak said.

In another effort to digitalize, the N.C. Area Health Education Centers Program is using a $13.6 million grant to establish a health information technology regional extension center.

The center reaches out to family practices and helps them set up electronic health records systems.

“As electronic medical records are adopted and are required due to legislation, the ability to connect those records is the next logical step,” said IBM spokesperson Holli Haswell.

This health information exchange is being called one of the most advanced of its kind because of its size and ability to back information with a data warehouse, Haswell said.

The center is the lead agency in moving N.C. primary-care providers to digital record-keeping, said Dr. Tom Bacon, the program director.

It is one of 62 centers that received a grant through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which was part of the 2009 federal stimulus package.

Ann Lefebvre, director of the new center, said the program has more than 40 practice-based consultants working in 600 primary care practices, training and setting up the programs for more than 2,000 providers.

The company is budgeted to work with 3,465 providers.

By having all patient information in a common database, physicians using electronic health records can look at trends among patients and choose the best treatments rather than treating case-by-case, Lefebvre said.

“It’s moving from what’s typically been paper charts and manila folders — racks of them — and not treat just a patient at a time but look at what are the best ways to address problems,” she said.

Both programs are being shaped by federal incentives allotted by the Health Information Technology Act. The act promises rewards for medical providers making “meaningful use” of electronic health records, or using certified electronic health record technology in ways that can be measured.

“Ultimately it’s about improving care for patients,” Bacon said.

“The only way you can really improve care is to have information readily available.”

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