Gov. Dave Heineman, CIO Brenda Decker, Nebraska/Photo by Gov. Dave Heineman, CIO Brenda Decker, Nebraska Photo by

When thinking about Nebraska, "technology pioneer" probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But in an interview inside the magnificent Nebraska state Capitol, Gov. Dave Heineman told Government Technology he's looking to change that. Heineman leads a number of ambitious initiatives. One such project, statewide electronic health records (EHRs), already is being piloted and has delivered promising results. He is also aiming for truly interoperable public safety communications and a unified statewide e-mail system. Defying the notion of Nebraska as flyover country between the coasts, Heineman is intent on showcasing the Cornhusker State's transformation into an IT powerhouse.

What exactly is the Nebraska Health Information Initiative?

That's our initiative for a Web-based system that's primarily focused on the idea of electronic medical records -- where patient information could be shared if you're in any location in Nebraska. It means the opportunity for prescriptions to be done electronically and to reduce errors. I think we've all heard, but it's really true, that we could reduce significantly the costs in the medical system if we had an electronic-based system.

Watch Video: Nebraska: The Next IT Hotspot? Part 1. Gov. Dave Heineman on statewide EHRs, public safety communication and more.

I'd imagine one of the other challenges would be to integrate private health-care providers that already have an internal EHR built-in.

You just identified one of the biggest challenges. Everybody looks at it from a proprietary basis. The pilot project has been a private-public partnership. The private sector is leading the charge on this issue, so that's been very helpful. And everybody understands. Do we have will to get this done? I think we do. That overrides the technology concerns, and I believe we can get there. But having the private sector put up the money, and be significantly involved has made all the difference in the world.

What lessons have you learned from the EHR pilot?

First of all, involve people. Make it a collaborative process. Make sure their input is listened to. We may not agree on every decision, but if you've had the opportunity to have input it makes a difference. Second, create a private-public partnership. Third, be consumer focused. The consumer is going to have a large say in this, and if they want to opt out, they can. I think we have several hundreds of thousands of patients involved right now, and fewer than 2 percent chose to opt out because it's in their interest. They know that when they're traveling within the state to another location, they need that medical information. Imagine if you travel somewhere and you have a problem. That doctor in the ER in Chicago, New York, Denver or L.A. has immediate access to your record -- they won't have to repeat tests, and they'll know what medications you're taking. It's a big plus for the system.

Given the economy, how is this being funded? Does it end up paying for itself?

Right now, the private sector has taken the lead in funding. There is some state and local funding involved, but everybody is so convinced that, in the long run, this reduces cost and will provide better health care that they are all willing to upfront money. Then, ultimately, we will have to have a system paying for it, but we believe we can get there.

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.