Hospitals Move Toward Electronic Records Exchange

On Feb. 11, the 471-bed Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff became the third hospital this year to join Arkansas’ network that will let health care providers access patients’ electronic medical records.

Giving health care providers instant access to a patient’s medical file should reduce errors and the duplication of tests while improving the management of a patient’s health, said Ray Scott, the head of the Arkansas Office of Health Information Technology, which operates the Arkansas health information exchange called SHARE — State Health Alliance for Records Exchange.

So far, North Arkansas Regional Medical Center of Harrison and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences have also said they will participate in SHARE.

Scott said last week that six other hospitals are in the process of joining SHARE, and by the end of the year, he expects 12 to 15 of the approximately 100 hospitals in the state to be on SHARE.

Still, Scott said it could take years before most Arkansas hospitals have their patient records tethered to SHARE.

“We’ve only started implementing it,” Scott said. “This is still voluntary. I don’t have any authority to go out there and tell a health care provider, ‘You must connect and use SHARE.’”

One of the hurdles of getting on SHARE is the cost.

“We are reluctant to put out a ballpark number” on what it would cost to join SHARE, Scott said, because there are a number of variables involved, including whether the hospital even has an electronic medical record database.

By 2014, however, under Medicare rules, medical providers are supposed to have achieved some level of electronic record adoption, he said. If they don’t, they could eventually face penalties from Medicare.

It has been estimated that at least $500 million will be spent in Arkansas during the next several years converting medical records from paper to digital.

Once in SHARE, the hospital will have to pay a fee to SHARE, but that cost also varies, Scott said.

“For some hospitals, that could present more of a problem than others,” said Paul Cunningham, executive vice president of the Arkansas Hospital Association.

Cunningham said in the AHA’s Feb. 4 newsletter that keeping SHARE afloat will require individual health care providers, hospitals and insurance companies to spend a total of about $5 million annually.

That would account for 88 percent of SHARE’s revenue. The rest of the money would come from the state’s Medicaid program.

That’s one scenario of how SHARE might be paid for, Scott said. But the details are still being worked out. He said the fees to hospital will vary depending on a number of factors and it’s unlikely that two hospitals will pay the same rate.

Harrison Hospital

North Arkansas Regional Medical Center announced it joined SHARE last month and is in the process of testing the system’s connection to its network, which includes a 174-bed hospital, physician offices and clinics in Jasper, Lead Hill and Marshall, said CEO Vince Leist.

Leist, who came to NARMC in 2010 from a hospital in Southern California, said he had experience establishing a health information exchange. When he learned about SHARE, he jumped at the chance to join.

“We saw this as Arkansas’ effort to produce a health information exchange, and we better get involved,” he said.

Within six months, a doctor in the hospital’s system should be able to electronically order a test, that test be performed and then the results be placed in the patient’s electronic medical record to be viewed by medical providers with the proper access.

“It has a huge potential to improve a patient’s care while reducing costs,” Leist said. “I think if we use the system correctly, we can do that.”

He also encourages other hospitals to join the network.

Once a hospital has joined, if a patient from JRMC ends up in the NARMC system, a doctor can quickly pull up that medical history electronically, reducing the time waiting on the records and possibly eliminating the need for some tests.

“The more hospitals participate, the more value the health information exchange has,” Leist said.