The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced Tuesday, Jan. 11, that it has signed a $30 million contract with Hewlett-Packard to build the state’s health information exchange (HIE) and e-prescribing network.

The project will create a health records and services eligibility portal for Medicaid patients and a separate health records portal for more than 70,000 medical providers. The e-prescribing network will enable doctors to transmit prescriptions directly to pharmacies instead of sending paper prescriptions via the patients.

The agency hopes e-prescribing will assist in minimizing medical errors, reduce prescription abuse and be more convenient for patients. The network is expected to reduce medical errors by flagging prescriptions that may exceed safety recommendations or drugs that could react adversely with other medications prescribed to a patient. Texas joins New York, Massachusetts, Arkansas and other states that have already initiated e-prescribing networks for Medicaid.

Officials plan to have the new systems running by July 2011.

More than 3 million Medicaid patients will receive permanent plastic Medicaid ID cards for doctor visits instead of the paper ID cards that the HHSC usually mails every month. The magnetic strips on the cards will access the patients’ full medical history.

“The doctor’s staff can take that card and swipe it for eligibility verification information,” said Geoff Wool, spokesman for the HHSC. “It will have information about what prescription drugs Medicaid has paid for that client. It will have information about office visits.”

Instant access to such histories, rather than paper records sent via mail by past physicians, is supposed to empower doctors to give more informed health care and do so more quickly. Simultaneously that upgrade should help recover the costs of the project, said the HHSC. By no longer printing paper ID cards, the state expects to recover its technology investment in less than three years.

The patient records portal will send automated messages to patients, alerting them to care that they’re eligible for and ought to pursue as preventive measures. Wool said this feature supported the agency’s goal of increasing preventive care, which can make costlier care down the road less likely. He said patients must be more personally active in their health-care decisions, and the automated message system aimed to foster that.

Wool said patients should receive their plastic cards by this summer.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor