The days of medical records traveling on paper through the mail system are ending in Tennessee. The state's Office of Information Resources is managing the Volunteer eHealth initiative. The program joins Tennessee officials and medical professionals to establish a statewide health network reaching all health-care providers in the state.

Theoretically anytime a patient visits a new doctor, that doctor could instantly extract all health information ever recorded on the patient by past doctors using the e-health network, a part of the eHealth initiative. But many areas of Tennessee and other rural states don't have the broadband capacity to exchange such information electronically.

Bill Ezell, outgoing CIO of Tennessee, is using the state's influence with its wide area network vendor, AT&T, to change that.

"We're telling AT&T that when they get into areas without broadband capability, we want them to offer each provider, whether it's an individual physician, community hospital or a clinic -- profit or nonprofit -- connectivity via the state's network at state contract rates," Ezell said.

He also instructed the vendor to collaborate with independent providers in areas AT&T doesn't serve to ensure those areas also receive broadband access to the statewide network.

Ezell said the strategy would make the network's technology infrastructure available to all health-care providers in the state without the state having to spend additional tax dollars. His remaining challenge will be creating a marketing campaign to persuade all health-care providers to use the network.

Ezell, who leaves his post in August, is also implementing an IT preparation strategy for natural disasters he said would simultaneously reduce costs and simplify infrastructure maintenance. Over the past 10 years, Tennessee agencies upgraded to servers that ran users' applications via the Internet. But those servers remained scattered across the state in individual agency offices, making for costly maintenance. It also left mission-critical functions vulnerable to natural disasters with no uniform recovery protocols.

Ezell moved those servers to the state's data center and virtualized many of them. The change slashed hardware, software and physical maintenance costs, Ezell said.

The remaining problem is that the data center itself is obsolete, he said, adding that he is nearly finished calculating a budget to build two new data centers geographically spread apart. Each data center will perform 50 percent of the workload, but have the ability to perform all of the state's critical functions in the event a disaster destroys the other center.

Ezell said full implementation would likely take four years after funding gets approved.

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer