Montana is developing an electronic health information exchange to allow providers to access a patient's complete medical record to improve coordination of care, eliminate duplication of tests and reduce health care costs, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday.
The state has received a nearly $19 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help pay for the project to connect the state's physicians, hospitals, primary care providers, pharmacies, labs and medical imaging providers.
Montana is one of two states without such an exchange, said Jean Branscum, the CEO of the Montana Medical Association.
Bullock signed an executive order Wednesday designating Big Sky Care Connect to oversee the state's health information exchange. It plans to start sharing data next year.
"Big Sky Care Connect is going to help everyone -- providers, hospitals, insurers and patients -- give and receive their best care Montana has to offer," Dr. Jon Griffin with St. Peter's Health said in a statement. "This is an exciting first step in the future of health care in Montana."
Big Sky Care Connect is a nonprofit organization formed by health care providers and public and private health plans that followed from the Governor's Council on Health Care Innovation, which was created in 2015.
Health care providers in Billings tested a smaller health information exchange, said John Felton, president of RiverStone Health. They were able to identify a group of patients who were frequent users of expensive emergency care and develop case management services to provide lower cost and better coordinated services for them.
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Branscum, who is also the acting chief administrative officer for Big Sky Care Connect, said the board expects to hire a contractor in September and have the exchange operational by next April. Board members will also look at buying software to analyze patient data to identify health trends.
Montana's health information exchange will also be able to share information with similar programs that serve other states or regions, meaning out-of-state doctors will be able to access the medical files of patients referred for more specialized care, Branscum said.
Currently, most medical records are shared via fax, mail or, on a limited basis, secure direct messaging, she said. If someone arrives at the emergency room, their records may not be available in a timely fashion.
With the health information exchange, treating physicians can see test results and what kind of medications a patient has been taking to help make treatment decisions and avoid repeating tests, thus reducing costs. The exchange will also help coordinate primary care with behavioral care.
"It's modern and innovative, but it's also simply logical at this point," Bullock said. "It's a logical way to remove barriers to services, ensure patients receive superior care and reduce burgeoning health care costs."
The system is expected to cost about $50 billion over the next four years, Branscum said, and the board will be fundraising and seeking other grant money while also charging a subscription price to medical providers, including Medicaid.
Bullock's two-year budget included $500,000 for the project.