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Vermont’s Plan for EHRs and Health Information Exchange
Creating a statewide network of electronic health records (EHRs) is a significant and challenging task. Health care practitioners need assistance with adopting and implementing the technology. The rules that the network operates by need to be well thought out, so that the network is secure, and patient information remains private and confidential.
There are three major steps towards building a statewide network of electronic health records (EHRs). They are:
- Assisting health care practitioners with adopting and implementing EHRs;
- Connecting practitioners’ EHRs to the Vermont Health Information Exchange;
- Helping practitioners use the technology to improve the care that you receive.
The first task, assistance with EHR adoption and implementation, is being tackled by Vermont Information Technology Leaders, Inc. (VITL), an independent non-profit organization located in Montpelier. VITL has been designated by the federal government as a “regional extension center,” and has received funding to work with Vermont primary care practitioners on EHRs.
VITL has launched a campaign to get almost all of the state’s approximately 1,000 primary care practitioners to use an EHR at a level that the federal government considers meaningful. So far, more than 800 practitioners have signed up to work with VITL, and more are signing up on a weekly basis.
Once a practitioner has an EHR to use, VITL also helps the practitioner connect to the Vermont Health Information Exchange. This enables the EHR to communicate with other health care organizations’ systems over a secure link. Expansion of the Vermont Health Information Exchange is in the works. Not only will more EHRs be connected, but VITL is working on adding services, including being able to electronically transmit other types of test results, and being able to send and receive information about immunizations that have been given. Eventually, almost all types of health information will be exchanged electronically between EHRs.
There are several other important areas where progress is being made. The state of Vermont, through its Blueprint for Health program, is working with primary care practitioners in several parts of the state to improve how health care is delivered. These practitioners are using a database, called the Blueprint registry, to analyze data on the care that has been provided and identify opportunities for improvement. Some practitioners are using their EHRs to collect data on patient care, and then move it by a secure connection that VITL provides into the Blueprint registry, where it can be more thoroughly analyzed. The number of health care practitioners participating in the Blueprint for Health will grow as the program expands statewide.
The state’s Department of Health Access, through its Division of Health Care Reform, is coordinating the work being done by many different organizations to create a statewide network of EHRs. The Vermont General Assembly has given the Department responsibility for developing and updating the Vermont Health Care Information Technology Plan, which is now in its fourth edition. The Department organizes monthly meetings of a group of health information technology and health information exchange stakeholders, and has recently hired a full-time health information technology coordinator.
To fund the work of VITL and various state health information technology projects, the Vermont General Assembly has created the Vermont Health Information Technology Fund. Insurance companies that cover Vermont residents contribute to this fund, which is managed by the state.