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VOL. 128 | NO. 224 | Friday, November 15, 2013

TN eShare Direct Project Passes Milestone

By Michael Waddell

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A growing number of local physicians are adopting Direct technology for the secure transferal of electronic medical records, and many more are expected to hop the wave in the next few months. Just in the first half of this month, the number of early adopters of the Direct system has surged from less than 1,000 to more than 1,400 in Tennessee.

Tennessee’s statewide Health eShare initiative is striving to maximize the efficiency and interoperability of secure messaging through adoption of the Direct technology across all health care settings. The project got underway in October 2012 and is funded by the Office of the National Coordinators through the state Office of eHealth Initiatives (OeHI).

“The goal was to provide a mechanism by which physicians could securely communicate clinical information outside of their own institutional walls,” said Dawn Fitzgerald, CEO of Qsource, which is partnering with the state Office of eHealth Initiatives to implement the Direct technology across the state. “Its purpose is also to help to meet the Stage 2 Meaningful Use objectives required for garnering incentives under what was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

Fitzgerald estimates that physicians in Memphis and Jackson easily make up one-third of the total applicants so far. She stressed that a $500 incentive (which covers the cost of the Direct hardware) will be available only for the first 4,000 independent addressees who enroll in the program, and Qsource’s support is funded only through the end of January.

Memphis was chosen as one of three pilot communities when the project started last year.

“Our community partner in that initiative was Health Choice, and they facilitated our working with a local group of physicians that were under Aetna’s Accountable Care organization program called Mock One,” Fitzgerald said. “Since then, we’ve expanded and are working with Methodist/Le Bonheur, and we are in discussions with Baptist, Saint Francis and The MED.”

Obviously, the security of patients’ personal medical records and history is the most important factor.

“While it functionally looks like Gmail or any other mail service provider, none of the information that passes through the system can be identifiable – it is encrypted from end to end so only the sender and receiver can view the information in an unencrypted form,” Fitzgerald said.

Primary Care Specialists in East Memphis is one of the early adopters of the program in Memphis and has been using the system since May.

“It’s getting to the point now where there is a critical mass where it is necessary to have secure emails to be able to transfer electronic medical records,” said Dr. Oren Lee Berkenstock, partner at Primary Care Specialists. “We’re very excited about the future and seeing how this system will work. We are even going ahead and trying to integrate this with the nine nursing homes that we oversee.”

Traditional electronic medical records transferal methods involved a paper copy that would have to be faxed or mailed, and there were clerical areas where information could be lost or delayed.

“It’s just a quantum leap over what we were doing before,” said Berkenstock, who is also president-elect for the Memphis Medical Society and medical director for the Applingwood Health Care Center nursing home. “Now the information is more portable, in-depth and timely.”

He feels better information will lead to better patient care, fewer hospital readmissions and reduced health care costs.

“And there are some things you can’t attach a price to, like lowering patients’ and families’ heightened expectations and anxiety associated with these transfers,” Berkenstock said.

Qsource is a nonprofit health care quality improvement and information technology consultancy based in Tennessee since 1973.

“As the growth of electronic medical records has expanded, the need for technical decision support around selecting an EMR, implementing an EMR, and then using that system for quality improvement initiatives has expanded. So our business line has expanded to incorporate HIT services as well,” Fitzgerald said.

The group also received funding four years ago to provide technical assistance to eligible providers and hospitals to adopt electronic medical records technology that would get them to Stage 1 of Meaningful Use standards.

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