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Grant boosts area test of electronic medical data

A consortium of medical groups has received a $1 million grant to take the region's first big step toward creating a system that allows doctors to exchange electronic patient health records.

The effort is considered a test of a system that is likely to expand eventually to every medical office, especially with the federal government encouraging doctors with enhanced payments to adopt and use electronic health records.

"One of the key goals is to make clinical information as portable as possible so that it follows the patient," said Dr. Peter Winkelstein, chief medical informatics officer for UBMD, the group that represents physicians affiliated with the University at Buffalo.

The grant from the Medical Society of the State of New York is part of $4.5 million in funds from the state given to the doctors' group to distribute for health information technology projects.

The effort here also includes the Catholic Independent Practice Association of Western New York, which represents physicians affiliated with the Catholic Health System; Dent Neurological Associates; the Buffalo Medical Group; and the Lifetime Medical Group. All are part of the Buffalo Area Physicians Information Exchange.

Over 18 months, the exchange will roll out the effort involving 380 doctors, allowing different computer systems with different software to share summaries of patients that include information about diagnoses, medications, allergies, laboratory results and treatment plans.

"You could call this a proof of concept. We believe there is value in being able to move this information around, but we want to show it," Winkelstein said.

Potential benefits include better coordination of care and less duplication of services. On referrals to specialists, for instance, the patients' medical information will be there when they arrive, and the results will be sent to their primary doctor.

This is only the first step in the Buffalo area -- similar projects are under way across the country -- in what will be a slow, challenging and expensive transition from paper to electronic records.

In addition to the technical issues, health and government officials must reach consensus on standards for electronic patient records, including information that is often subjective, and get doctors to use the data, said Dennis Horrigan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Independent Practice Association.

e-mail: hdavis@buffnews.com

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