Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield gives $817,000 to upgrade digital health network in state’s rural hospitals

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News release) — Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield has awarded $817,000 to the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership to help South Arkansas hospitals and clinics improve how they exchange patient information and ensure better continuity of care during patient transfers.

The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership is a nonprofit organization made up of 14 hospital members and 108 hospital-owned or affiliated clinics in the southern region of the state. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) supports and works closely with the partnership on professional health education and public health issues.

While some of the partnership’s hospitals and their clinics participate in the State Health Alliance for Records Exchange (SHARE), which is overseen by the Office of Health Information Technology (a division of the Arkansas Department of Health), none of them have been able to fully participate in the exchange because of the high costs of full membership. Several member hospitals currently are only participating at the minimal level and three member hospitals are not sharing data at all.

The one-year grant will help them participate at the highest level. In addition, SHARE will provide ARHP hospitals and health care providers with real-time patient results that will help them identify clinical strengths and areas that might need improvement. SHARE’s daily reports will make available to ARHP health care providers a 24-hour snapshot of critical events (such as emergency room visits and inpatient discharges).

SHARE lets users transmit and exchange clinical information such as clinical care summaries, vital signs, medications, allergies, continuity of care documents (CCDs), transitions of care documents, immunization records, laboratory results, radiology report transcriptions and discharge summaries. Most importantly, other providers can send clinical information instantly, so providers have it before the patients arrive.

SHARE’s vision is a healthier state population and a greatly improved health care system in which care givers and patients have electronic access to more complete health records and are empowered to make better health decisions with this information. SHARE’s mission is to improve the delivery, coordination and quality of health care throughout Arkansas through the statewide use of health information technology and clinical data exchange.

“It is imperative our member hospitals be fully prepared for value-based care,” said Mellie Bridewell, the partnership’s CEO and a UAMS regional director of strategy, management and administration. “They must be able to share and have access to patient data as well as have the support of a system that can assist them with compiling and collecting the data to use in treating their patients. Without this assistance, our small rural hospitals will not be able to financially survive the changes ahead.”

New value-based care models for payment to health care providers are driving a shift to population health approaches that focus on prevention, improved chronic disease management and wellness activities and away from the traditional fee-for-service model.

The donation from Arkansas Blue Cross will pay for the costs of upgrading equipment and annual dues for its member hospitals and clinics to participate fully in the exchange. There is no funding mechanism to assist rural hospitals and clinics with the annual costs of participating in SHARE.

“Making sure doctors and hospitals in all areas of the state have the information they need to treat their patients is critical to overall quality. And we believe that all stakeholders have a role to play in making the health care delivery system more effective and sustainable for the people we serve,” said Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross. “We also know that we produce better results when we work collaboratively. To that end, Arkansas Blue Cross is embracing current and emerging technologies as a key strategy to use information more effectively to create a healthier Arkansas. We are confident this grant will bring us a step closer to that goal.”

The partnership has been successful in obtaining grants and donations to support their member hospitals and clinics with quality improvement initiatives and care coordination. It also has plans for population health projects in 2020 and for assisting its members with digital health technology to expand these opportunities.

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