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Better Medical Records System Recommended

State Medicaid chief: Patients, caregivers require better access to data

Doctors and hospitals require better access to patients’ medical histories, and health care insurers and consumers require more facts about who is providing good medical care, Arkansas’ top Medicaid official said.

The health care system in Arkansas and the nation is “not making good use of our resources,” said John Selig, director of the Department of Human Services, which runs the state’s Medicaid program. “We spend more money by far per capita than any other country in the world on health care, and at best we have mediocre health care quality.”

Selig’s comments opened a daylong conference in Little Rock aimed at improving the electronic collection and exchange of medical information. The conference is part of a program stemming from a $200,000 two-year grant to start planning a statewide system for electronically sharing such health information as patient records. The funding will also support the use of health-care data in measuring the quality of medical care.

The grant from the Center for Health Care Strategies Inc., a nonprofit health policy organization, is designed as seed money for the state’s information technology ideas in diabetes care, cervical cancer screening, well-child visits and preventive services for adults. Rhode Island and Rochester, N. Y., were the only other areas to receive funding.

Leading the effort in Arkansas are the state Medicaid program and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, a nonprofit organization that assesses medical care paid for by Medicare and Medicaid.

The grant will assist the state examine existing technological capabilities as well as the kind of patient data that could be stored electronically on networks and accessed by doctors, hospitals and insurers.

Gov. Mike Beebe, who gave the conference’s keynote address, said, “If you know what somebody’s allergic to, if you know what kind of regimen of treatment someone’s been on, if you know something in their medical history, that allows you to more quickly and immediately go to the solution. Then you’ve jacked up and elevated the quality of care in addition to attacking the efficiency of that.”

Beebe, who said he does not “pretend to understand technology,” cautioned against moving too fast toward an electronic exchange of patient facts.

The widespread use of electronic health documentations has long been an objective of President Bush, who included the issue in campaign speeches. In April 2004, he called for the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services to begin planning for a nationwide health information network. However, a February 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that the department still had no clear strategy for guarding patient privacy.

Selig said Arkansas has begun some smaller steps in the direction of beginning health information innovations. The Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care has developed an Internet portal that doctors can make use of to tracks which of their patients on the ARKids First program are due for well-child screenings. The Medicaid program is in addition working with the state organization that collects public school students’ body mass indexes.



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