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$817,000 Awarded To 14 Rural Arkansas Hospitals For Patient Information

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield President and CEO Curtis Barnett speaks to hospital executives Tuesday before presenting checks to help 14 hospitals share patient information.
Michael Hibblen

Fourteen rural hospitals received Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield grants totaling $817,000 to fund their connection to a program enabling medical computer systems to talk to each other. The one-year grant will allow all the hospitals to connect to the state-operated State Health Alliance for Records Exchange at the highest level possible, said Blue Cross President and CEO Curtis Barnett.

Barnett said health care providers need to know when someone is not seeing their primary care physician or isn’t treating their diabetes properly. He later told reporters that Blue Cross wants to move toward more “value-based care” based on quality and outcomes. Data is necessary to support that move.

"Health care is changing, and it’s up to all of us in health care to adapt and respond and whenever possible to lead that change," Barnett said before presenting the checks. "And we recognize that’s especially challenging for our rural health care providers."

For some of the hospitals, the grant will start their participation in the system, said Phil Gilmore, CEO of Ashley County Medical Center and president of the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, an association of the 14 hospitals. The program will reimburse other hospitals, like his, that are already participating. The hospitals serve 23 counties and include 150 hospital-owned and affiliated clinics. All of the 14 hospitals except Magnolia Regional Medical Center are in the Arkansas Delta.

Gilmore said his hospital is eight miles north of Louisiana and 2.5 hours from Little Rock. If the hospital has to transport a patient to Little Rock, being able to transfer the data between the providers is helpful.

Barnett said Blue Cross has been having conversations with the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership for several years. The SHARE program is an electronic platform allowing health care providers to communicate electronically, even if they are on different systems. Providers can access patient histories, medication lists and other medical information. Stephanie Williams, Department of Health chief of staff, said the program adheres to federal and state privacy standards.

The program is administered by the department’s Office of Health Information Technology. HIT Director Anne Santifer said the program helps the system produces a more complete picture of a patient’s record and reduces unnecessary testing and waste. The hospital can query the system when a patient arrives for care to learn about allergies, recent health events and other information. The system is connected to 23 other health information exchanges outside of Arkansas.

SHARE is primarily funded federally, but hospitals pay into the system to fund the state’s required matches. The following providers received these amounts:

  • Ashley County Medical Center – $46,226
  • Baptist Health Medical Center – Stuttgart – $48,026
  • Bradley County Medical Center – $43,826
  • Chicot Memorial Medical Center – $41,426
  • Dallas County Medical Center –$41,426
  • Delta Memorial Hospital – $54,626
  • Dewitt Hospital and Nursing Homes – $40,226
  • Drew Memorial Hospital – $102,026
  • Helena Regional Medical “Center – $56,426
  • Jefferson Regional Medial Center – $144,878
  • Magnolia Regional Medical Center – $46,226
  • McGehee Hospital – $39,626
  • Medical Center of South Arkansas – $57,026
  • Ouachita County Medical Center – $55,826
Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics.