University of California-Davis officials are ramping up efforts to sign up rural health centers in California for a federally funded program that provides subsidies for providers to adopt electronic information exchanges.
Health information exchanges are a central tenet of the Affordable Care Act. Getting a functional and smooth-running network up to speed in rural areas can be especially difficult, according to health experts.
Now, through a partnership between HHS and California Health eQuality (CHeQ), part of UC Davis' Institute for Population Health Improvement, remote parts of the state can be connected by the Rural Health Information Exchange Incentive Program.
CHeQ held a webinar last week to explain to providers how they can benefit from $1 million in grant money set aside for the program. Rural hospitals and clinics have until November to take advantage of the federal funding.
Rayna Caplan, senior program officer at the UC-Davis Institute for Population and Health Improvement, said rural providers don't always have the bandwidth or capital to implement health information exchange capabilities.
One of the biggest obstacles to coordinating care in rural areas is sending and receiving important health information securely between providers and with patients, Caplan said.
"Our hope is that this program will help streamline and simplify this process," Caplan said.
From now through November, rural hospitals, clinics and provider offices are eligible for a 65% subsidy to cover connectivity in the launch of their health information exchanges. That covers startup connectivity costs as well as maintenance costs for the first year, Caplan said.
Program officials say the information exchanges are increasingly important as the timeline to implement meaningful use of electronic health records nears -- a prominent feature of the ACA that mandates all hospitals adopt some form of EHR that enables information to be shared doctor-to-doctor and with patients.
Caplan said the two main goals of HIE networks are to improve coordination of patient care and drive down cost. There are two core issues that need to be part of that, she said: privacy and interoperability of networks.
"Our job is to make interoperability seamless, while also complying with federal and state privacy laws," Caplan said. "So eventually one hospital or clinic in Southern California will be able to share patient information with providers in other parts of the state that may not be connected. Eventually in five years or so, we’ll be able to start seeing that possibility throughout the country."