The Minneapolis company's software is seen as a step toward a national online network.
A Minnesota company earned the attention of the nation's top health care reform advocates Wednesday for being among the first to electronically transfer patient records using federal standards.
VisionShare, a technology company in Minneapolis, was singled out at an event at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a pilot project in which Hennepin County Medical Center used the company's software to securely send immunization records to the Minnesota Department of Health.
It was one of two programs singled out for making important strides in the quest to build a national online network to more easily share people's medical records.
"One of the things [patients] want most from the health care system is for their doctors and nurses, who are located in different places, to be able to share what they know about them -- to be able to share X-rays, the lab results, the notes -- so they don't have to fill out the clipboard, they don't always have to repeat the drugs they're on," said Dr. David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health information technology.
While using the Internet to share patient records may sound simple, the bulk of information still gets sent via fax machines or the mail -- or not at all.
"Being aware of records and securely exchanging them has turned out to be enormously difficult to do," said Mark Briggs, CEO of VisionShare.
He likened VisionShare's software to buying a premium channel to watch sporting events. Health care providers can use their existing Internet provider but rely on VisionShare software to transmit encrypted records.
Briggs was a speaker at the event in Washington, which served as something of a pep rally to tout progress in modernizing the health care system and sparking innovation across many industries.
Supporters say linking medical records electronically will improve the quality of health care and lower costs by reducing paperwork and avoiding duplicate tests. It could be especially valuable for people with ongoing illnesses, such as cancer, who require coordination among several specialists.
Millions of federal dollars are at stake in the form of "incentives" offered to physicians, clinics and other health care providers to establish electronic records-keeping systems. More incentive funds are available when organizations actually exchange the records securely.
Minnesota began its own efforts toward electronic patient record sharing in 2004, also using a public-private model. By 2015, the state will require all health care providers to have an established gateway to exchange patient records.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, the state leads the nation in the use of electronic health records in physician's offices, with more than two-thirds of Minnesota providers now storing patient information in computers instead of paper folders.
Other efforts beyond VisionShare's are underway in Minnesota. A consortium of health plans and hospital groups has partnered with the state on a system that allows doctors not just to transfer information from place to place, as with VisionShare, but to also query details such as current medications, allergies, prior lab tests or surgeries. The group formed in 2007 and includes Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Medica, and HealthPartners as well as Allina Hospitals and Clinics.
A Duluth-based nonprofit, the Community Health Information Collaborative, is working with 200 providers and health-related organizations in northeastern Minnesota and uses software developed by Minneapolis-based Mednet.
VisionShare works with more than 3,000 hospitals, and did not receive any federal or state grants for its pilot project with HCMC and the Department of Health. The company said it would spend $50 million over the next year to set up the network with other doctors around the country as a way to grow market share.
"It's an important part of a complex puzzle," said Marty LaVenture, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's Office of Health Information Technology.
Also noted at the event was a project through the Rhode Island Quality Institute.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335