Millions coming to D.C. for medical-records database plan

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; B02

The District government and two local health-care organizations are slated to receive $15.4 million in federal stimulus funds as part of a nationwide effort to improve patient records, promote record-sharing, and train people for careers in health care and health information technology.

The grants, announced by federal officials last week, are part of a $750 million effort by the Obama administration to improve the nation's medical records database and enable "widespread meaningful use" of health information technology.

In a statement last week, the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance said the city's $5.1 million grant will help widen the exchange of patient information among health-care providers in the District, Maryland and Virginia. The D.C. Primary Care Association said its $5.4 million grant will help it assist health-care providers with converting patient records from paper to electronic files. The $4.9 million grant to Providence Health Foundation of Providence Hospital will go toward job training.

Starting in 2015, health-care providers are expected to be actively using electronic records under the "meaningful use" definition or be subject to financial penalties under Medicare. "Meaningful use" is a new term defined last year as using electronic health records to increase health-care efficiency, coordinate patient care, improve patient safety, reduce racial disparities in treatment and improve the overall health of Americans.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the grants "the first of their kind" and said they "will help develop our electronic infrastructure and give doctors and other health-care providers the support they need as they adopt this powerful technology." Almost 100 grant recipients, including at least four in Maryland and Virginia, are scheduled to meet next month in the District to discuss emerging health technologies.

In the District, the D.C. Primary Care Association has been working to convert patient records to electronic files for three years, said its chief executive, Sharon Baskerville. Two years ago, it helped Family and Medical Counseling Service in Southeast Washington update its patient records so that it could better track and aggressively treat people with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

"We help providers purchase the right system and make sure it's supported," Baskerville said. With electronic records, doctors can access a patient's medical history anywhere in the country, even if that person is unconscious in an emergency room. "All they'd need is an ID," she said.

But that level of information exchange will require lawyers, hospital administrators and public health-care officials to sign agreements. D.C. officials said the grant will help the city achieve its goal of improving patient records through an existing project called "Connecting the Capitol Region: The District of Columbia's Health Information Exchange."

A city official said the District has more than seven active or planned health information technology initiatives, including the D.C. Regional Health Information Organization, the Children's IQ Network and the Patient Data Hub.

"This grant will allow the District to facilitate adoption of electronic health records to promote improved quality of care and health outcomes," said Julie Hudman, director of the city Department of Health Care Finance.

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