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AR Rural Hospitals Get Help to Boost Health Information Exchange

A $250K grant aims to improve health information exchange for 14 rural hospitals and other care sites in Arkansas.

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield has announced it has awarded $250,000 to the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership (ARHP) to further expand and enhance its health information exchange (HIE).

The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership consists of 14 hospitals, two federally qualified health centers, and 108 affiliated clinics in southern Arkansas. The HIE also works with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) on public health issues and health education.

HIEs are instrumental for connecting communities and ensuring patient medical records are available at all times. However, for rural hospitals and providers, participating in an HIE is not always an actuality.

In a survey conducted by Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC), 92 percent of the US population is covered by HIEs.

But according to the most recent ONC data brief in late 2018, small and rural hospitals were about half as likely to share records compared to their larger counterparts. In total, only 62 percent of small hospitals exchanged this information.

The grant aims to help rural hospitals in the area upgrade equipment and pay the annual dues for the hospitals and clinics to fully participate in the state’s exchange, State Health Alliance for Records Exchange (SHARE), which is overseen by the Arkansas Office of Health Information Technology.

The high cost of a full SHARE membership makes it difficult for rural hospitals and clinics to afford a full membership. Several hospitals that will now be covered by this partnership are involved with SHARE, but they cannot reap the benefits.

This grant will allow the hospitals under this umbrella to fully participate in SHARE.

The grant will also go toward overcoming key rural healthcare challenges. Individuals in rural communities experience chronic illness at a higher rate than those in urban or suburban areas and come up against care access issues due to geographic barriers.

“ARHP hospitals and clinics have been able to use SHARE to collaborate with other medical facilities and quickly get patients the care they need,” Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross, said in a statement. “This funding is a continuation of our effort to provide quality investments in sustainable initiatives that improve care for the citizens of Arkansas.”

The participating hospitals will also receive patient results that will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the medical facility, along with daily reports from SHARE that will do a deep dive into emergency room visits and inpatient discharges.

Furthermore, SHARE lets its users exchange critical patient data such as care summaries, medications, allergies, vital signs, transitions of care documents, laboratory results, and immunization records.

“Through SHARE and Arkansas Blue Cross, our member hospitals have been able to share and have access to patient data, which has been crucial during the pandemic,” said Mellie Bridewell, CEO of AHRP and UAMS regional director of strategy, management and administration. “This continued financial support for 2021 helps these rural hospitals focus on caring for their patients and communities.”

As value-based care brings more focus to patient social needs, HIEs allow organizations such as first responders, blood banks, schools, and drug and alcohol treatment centers to connect and share patient information.

SHARE’s goal is to enhance Arkansas’ healthcare system and give clinicians and patients more access to health records. Improving delivery, coordination, and quality healthcare throughout the state is vital to this HIE.

Arkansas Blue Cross provided an initial grant of $817,000 to ARHP in early 2020.

Some of the hospitals that are receiving funding include Ashley County Medical Center, Baptist Health, Dallas County Medical Center, Magnolia Regional Medical Center, Medical Center of South Arkansas, and Ouachita County Medical Center.

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