Reforms push medical records and information sharing

Lars Strangebye

When national health care legislation was enacted last year, much was made about the importance of the electronic storage and sharing of medical records among medical professionals.

While electronic storage was already common, remote access to patients’ medical histories was not as prevalent. As technology advances, doctors can access new medical information from a variety of sources across the world.

During his national push for health care reforms in 2009, President Barack Obama stopped in Grand Junction partly to call attention to a local health care system widely acclaimed as a model for sharing information as well as efforts aimed at improving care while controlling costs.

The Quality Health Network (QHN), a cooperative venture between Rocky Mountain Health Plans and the local Independent Practice Association, provides such sharing of information in Mesa County. Moreover, the system enables physicians to monitor one other to reduce unnecessary tests and procedures and, in turn, cut costs. Physicians also can monitor one another for quality of care.

For the past year, the local system has expanded under the Colorado Beacon Consortium (CBC), a program using $11.9 million in federal stimulus funds to expand services to six more counties in Western Colorado. One of 17 such projects in the nation, the goal of the CBC is to help primary care doctors in the region to improve their services by improving quality of care and using cutting-edge health information technology.

“The main function is to share data, breaking down the barriers,” said Dr. Lars Stangebye, a primary care physician in Montrose.

While QHN and the CBC aren’t the same, the two can work hand in hand, Stangebye said. QHN can provide a gap analysis, explaining what physicians might lack in equipment that can improve patient care and electronic record sharing. The CBC is specifically set up to offer incentives and assistance to upgrade offices and information storage. CBC also helps staff understand how to use electronic medical records, manage work flow, standardize templates and extract or validate data, said John Pushkin, a public relations specialist representing the CBC.

Stangebye doesn’t yet use QHN, partly because of the cost. But he foresees doing so. In the meantime, CBC is off to a good start, he said. “What it’s done is it’s helped us lay the foundation for doing quality improvement.”

Doctors used to learn new information on an informal basis, reading a report or attending a conference, Stangebye said. The new system brings multiple sources of information to the physician.

“We look at our patients and national standards,” he said. “It forces us to sit down and formalize our care and see how it compares to best practices.”

A three-year project, the CBC is scheduled to expire at end of 2012. The four main partners in the consortium effort are Rocky Mountain Health Plans, the Independent Practice Association (an organization of physicians), Quality Health Network and St. Mary’s Hospital.