Health Information Exchange Featured Article

September 11, 2012

Arkansas Rising Out of Its Image as Poorest, Sickest State with Slick New HIE

What do you do when your state lags in electronic health record use and ranks as one of the poorest, sickest and most obesity-plagued states?

We’re talking about Arkansas, and Gov. Mike Beebe, a democrat, desperately wanted to change all that and modernize his state’s sad healthcare infrastructure setup.

In Arkansas in 2009, over 40 percent of the population had high cholesterol, 22.4 percent were smokers, and most shocking of all, over 65 percent of the people living in the state were overweight or obese – all of which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

Something had to be done, and fast.

So Beebe got help crafting an application for the ONC’s HITECH Act grant to build a statewide health information exchange, according to Anthony Brino.

Beebe appointed Ray Scott, a veteran Arkansas bureaucrat, who was most recently head of the state’s health agency. Scott then became Arkansas health IT coordinator in 2010, Brino reported, and led the construction of Arkansas’ statewide HIE, the State Health Alliance for Records Exchange (SHARE).

Brino noted that its infrastructure and policy has basically “been built from scratch.”

While a few community health systems, hospitals and Blue Cross Blue Shield Arkansas had internal HIEs, Brino revealed there wasn’t much “regional exchange,” and at one large hospital, Scott told Brino that “more than half of the patients have been coming from outside its network.”

One of the biggest reasons Arkansas was having so much trouble is that it’s a state that still lacks broadband Internet in many places, so small practices found it very hard to use or consider using digital health records.

SHARE was built as a public utility, a model that in other states like Kansas has been controversial. But it’s planned here to let medical professionals securely share patient information between their locations, when and where needed, with SHARE as the “technical infrastructure needed to facilitate the exchange of health information in a HIPAA compliant environment,” according to the website.

Other states are grabbing on to the HIE infrastructure as well. In April, the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council (MCHC) announced it would develop the MetroChicago Health Information Exchange (HIE), expected to be the largest metropolitan HIE in the nation, serving more than 9.4 million people, and improving individual care and the overall health of Chicago’s population.

Edited by Braden Becker