Officials Test Data Sharing in Hospitals; Cancer Patients, Doctors in Rome Develop Network for Medical Records

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Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA Hospitals and doctors' offices are often the scene of experiments, but Georgia physicians are launching a different kind of test, one with electronic medical records.

The Department of Community Health is investing $1.7 million of federal stimulus funds in the Georgia Cancer Coalition's attempt to develop a network in which cancer patients, their doctors and Rome's two hospitals all share electronic copies of medical records.

Similar health-information exchanges are being tried by medical providers in Savannah, Evans and Atlanta as well as other parts of the country. In March, the department received a $13 million federal grant to establish a statewide network for providers to exchange patient information.

What's unique about the Rome trial is the involvement of the patient, said Rick Ratliff, a member of the Commission for Certification of Health Information Technology and an executive with the consulting firm Accenture.

"The real, end goal here is for the patient to be engaged in their health care. The more information, the more the patient and the family can be engaged," he said.

In the financial industry, individuals can go online and monitor their stocks, checking accounts and retirement at different institutions and move money between them with a few keystrokes. When it's time for filing tax returns, all the data can be downloaded into one report.

COOPERATION IN ROME

In the health field, only half of Georgia's doctors have their records stored electronically. Of those who do, the various programs they installed can't communicate with those sold by competing software companies.

National standards for what's called interoperability - the way machines interact with one another - are being established, but replacing existing machines, or getting the other half of physicians to buy a computer in the first place, won't happen without some trial and error.

That's what the Cancer Coalition is doing.

Cancer patients make logical test subjects because they have a real motivation to improve their health, unlike diabetics or cardiac patients who become accustomed to long-term conditions and often don't follow their doctor's advice, said Philip Lamson, a consultant with the Cancer Coalition. …