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HHS Grants Aim to Ease Data Sharing Among Rural Health Providers

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, September 14, 2011

Across a nearly 5,000 square-mile market in the center of New York State, patients travel between disparate healthcare providers. And their medical records are equally disparate.

But a grant of nearly $300,000 to Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, NY, aims to help change that. The funding is part of the more than $11.9 million awarded to rural health networks this month to support their adoption of certified electronic medical records and health IT.

"The key and uniqueness of this grant is that it focuses on exchanging data and interoperability among all of those settings, not just the ones that are part of Bassett," Scott Groom, vice president of information technology and CIO of Bassett Healthcare Network, said in an interview. "Traditionally,  sometimes [for] providers like that—especially if they've ever competed with each other—sharing information's not the first thing they would normally think about. But in this case it's for the good of the patient, and it will help us comply with all of the regulations as well."

Bassett received funding as lead applicant on behalf of itself and three separate organizations: A. O. Fox Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home; At Home Care, Inc.; and Community Health Center. The organizations are part of a larger, integrated healthcare system that provides outpatient primary and specialty care, community and tertiary-level inpatient care, and rehabilitative and long-term residential and in-home care, Groom said.

"The grant recognizes that we need to improve how we're sharing information, not only with partners that we've historically been strong with,  but also organizations that are not directly connected to our organization," Robert W. LaPolt, Bassett's director of network business applications, services, and integration, said in an interview.

Bassett is one of 40 grantee organizations that will receive about $300,000 each to purchase equipment, install broadband networks, and provide training for staff.

The pilot program was developed as a result of the President's Rural Health Initiative, which identifies health IT as a priority area. Funding is distributed through HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration and comes from existing appropriations and authorization for the Rural Health Care Services Outreach and Rural Health Network Development Program.

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