California Making Progress in Digital Transition

California is making progress in its transition to electronic health records, state officials said Thursday in an update on the state’s eHealth Initiative.

“Electronic health records are really changing the quality of care individuals are receiving,” said Linette Scott, chief medical information officer for the Department of Health Care Services.

So far, California has allocated $775 million in federal funds to hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to support health information exchange technology, Scott said in a conference call. “It demonstrates a change in the way health care is delivered,” she said.

Last month, UC-Davis Health System launched a 16-month, $17.5 million effort to expand electronic health records to under-served communities in California. On Thursday, program director Kenneth Kizer said the program will be initially aimed at “high-impact populations,” including dual-eligible Medicare-Medicaid patients, VA – Medicare patients and the prison population.

The program could also target specific conditions, including cancer, stroke and diabetes, along with emergency care and primary care safety-net clinics, he said. “There are some very promising opportunities,” Kizer said.

Kizer, director of the state Department of Health Services from 1985 to 1991, also served as undersecretary for health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he led the transition to electronic health records in the late 1990s.

The Davis program, called California Health eQuality (CHeQ),  is part of an interagency agreement with the state Health and Human Services Agency. It aims to improve sharing of immunization, laboratory and care data, while helping providers find secure platforms for exchanging information.

The program is soliciting nominations for an advisory committee. Nominations close Oct. 26. CHeQ and the state HHS will co-host a two-day conference on electronic health records in Sacramento Nov. 1-2.

CHeQ also is working on a pilot program for exchange of health information between states and an “immunization gateway service,” a web service-based gateway that allows electronic transmission of immunization records to California’s Immunization Information System.

Meanwhile, regional pilot projects are underway or about to begin in Santa Cruz, San Diego and the Inland Empire under the state Office of Health Information Integrity (OHII). They’ll survey patients about privacy, security and consent options for electronic health communications. The projects are authorized by AB 278, legislation passed in 2010 which seeks to evaluate security policies, implementation strategies and impacts on health care entities.

“We want to find out what patients are feeling about consent,” said Pamela Lane, CHHS deputy secretary for health information exchange.

The Health Information Integrity office is also developing a model participants agreement for health information organizations and data providers, including hospitals, physicians and laboratories.

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