Federal funding for health information technology (HIT) has largely been directed at small practices in rural-urban areas. In addition to funding and training IT staff, most managers of these practices would probably agree that coordination of regional HIT resources and a go-to knowledge base for implementing HIT would help them better serve their patients and providers.
To help meet these needs in North Central Florida, CommunityHealth IT was formed three years ago. This organization is a learning network and coordinating body for regional disease management and HIT projects including systematic expansion of broadband, ensuring that providers have the appropriate foundational technology, facilitating electronic health record (EHR) implementation, and exchanging electronic health information through a 14-county regional health information exchange (HIE).
Endorsed by Enterprise Florida — the State of Florida’s economic development arm — CommunityHealth IT serves as a platform to engage patients, medical facilities, and non-medical stakeholders that include regional economic development organizations, workforce development boards, two HIT Regional Extension Centers (RECs), and national HIT providers. CommunityHealth IT has raised the social capital needed within its communities to promote change in the rural-urban mix HIT landscape.
CommunityHealth IT has partnered with the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM) in this endeavor. PAHCOM has extended its proven professional development tools into the HIT field to assist members in finding reputable vendors and affordable, practical ways to implement HIT.
“CommunityHealth IT added a PAHCOM Chapter in our 14-county regional HIT action plan because PAHCOM’s organizational structure and opportunities are so beneficial to our many rural and underserved medical communities,” said Dr. David Willis, chief medical information officer of the CommunityHealth IT Network. “PAHCOM, which is now a key partner, can help replicate our successes in similar healthcare delivery systems.”
CommunityHealth IT’s action plan also includes systematically implementing three large-scale, regional HIT efforts to enable rural providers to electronically exchange protected health information reliably and affordably. Specifically, the efforts are:
- Concurrent deployment of regional HIT use with the $30 Million North Florida Broadband Authority project. This component ensures that rural providers have deeply discounted Internet connectivity for EHR and HIE use that is equivalent to what their urban counterparts enjoy. Consider looking for similar broadband projects in your area.
- Widespread implementation of federally certified EHRs. CommunityHealth IT members assist rural providers with affording EHRs by helping them leverage regional, state, and federal resources such as RECs and other projects supported by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). What ONC programs are serving your communities?
- Adoption of a nationally recognized, community HIE. The CommunityHealth IT HIE is the regional adaptation of a provider-driven, community-supportive, and locally sustainable HIE model originally developed by Healthy Ocala. Powered by RelayHealth and WorldDoc, CommunityHealth IT’s HIE will give credentialed providers and their patients immediate access to relevant medical information at the point of care.
“The health information exchange — and clinical connectivity in general — are growing in importance to the small physician practice, and the need is especially great in rural areas,” said Jeff Gartland, senior vice president, RelayHealth.
“CommunityHealth IT’s HIE initiative is certain to positively impact the healthcare providers it serves — particularly federally qualified health centers — as well as enhance the care and health of the communities it serves,” he added.
In sum, the CommunityHealth IT Initiative:
- ensures that rural medical providers have the same access to healthcare resources as their urban counterparts;
- strengthens the connections and communications between rural and urban providers;
- improves community health;
- lowers healthcare costs;
- bolsters the healthcare workforce; and
- stimulates local economies.
Are you ready to start something similar where you live? If so, healthier communities through a better healthcare system can be achieved by engaging organizations like the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and PAHCOM.
Karen Blanchette, the association director of PAHCOM, explained, “PAHCOM has been facilitating the sharing of knowledge among medical practices for more than 24 years. Because practices trust PAHCOM, it makes sense that we can help influence their adoption of technology.
Blanchette continued, “We’re pleased to be working with CommunityHealth IT as they help small practices and rural health clinics adopt health information exchange for enhanced efficiency and improved outcomes.”
For more information, visit HIMSS at www.himss.org and PAHCOM at www.pahcom.com.
Kendra Siler-Marsiglio, PhD, is the director of the Rural Health Partnership, a federally designated Rural Health Network that is recognized as a national leader in rural HIT. She is also the co-chair of the CommunityHealth IT Initiative.