Alabama Governor Sees Technology and Health Care as "Natural Partners"

"Physicians and other medical providers can use technology to access data that reduces duplication and improves patients' overall health ... With good information, patients' health care needs can be addressed better and more effectively."

by / August 16, 2007

Alabama Governor Bob Riley visited Jackson Hospital Tuesday to see how physicians and hospitals are using technology to improve patient care.

The governor's visit comes as the Alabama Medicaid Agency is working to create an electronic health information network that will link Medicaid with doctors, health care providers, state health agencies and private payers across the state. Medicaid is using a two-year $7.6 million federal grant for the project, which Governor Riley announced the state had received in January.

"This network will provide doctors with real-time access to individual health information like immunization records, prescription data and lab results. It will reduce the potential for medical errors, support our efforts to improve the quality of health care people receive, and allow our health care system to increase efficiency and decrease costs," Riley said.

Jackson Hospital Dr. Glenn Bedsole showed Riley how physicians using the hospital's electronic health information system can view lab results, x-ray images and medical information online to enhance patient care.

Dr. Jerry Harrison, a family physician from Haleyville, demonstrated an electronic health record system used in his practice that not only documents medical information, but provides reminders and other data to make sure every patient visit is thorough and complete without duplicating tests or other services.

"Both demonstrations illustrate the value of investing in technology. Technology and health care are natural partners. Physicians and other medical providers can use technology to access data that reduces duplication and improves patients' overall health," Riley said. "With good information, patients' health care needs can be addressed better and more effectively."

But doctors don't always receive accurate information about their patients in a timely manner. Lab results may get lost or delayed. Patients might forget to tell new doctors all the medicines they have been prescribed by other doctors. And in an emergency, patients may not even be able to communicate information at all or have access to it.

Riley said that happened during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of evacuees arrived in Alabama without their prescription medicine or medical records.

"The state and Medicaid recognize that when medical providers have secure access to key health information, patients benefit. Taxpayers also benefit because we're able to deliver higher quality health care in the most efficient and economical way possible," Riley said.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency is currently evaluating proposals from seven vendors interested in developing and pilot testing a clinical support tool that will ultimately provide health professionals with secure access to individual health information, claims, immunization records, prescription data and lab results. The clinical support tool will also make possible a variety of quality improvement efforts aimed at increasing efficiency, decreasing costs and making measurable improvements in the quality of care offered.

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