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Use of electronic health records spreading in N.D.

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BISMARCK – All of North Dakota’s hospitals will employ electronic health record systems by the end of this year, and several providers already are sharing patient records electronically, officials said Wednesday in officially rolling out the North Dakota Health Information Network.

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“I think this is yet another milestone for our state,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

The network went live earlier this year and will continue to expand over the next several years. Network Director Sheldon Wolf said the state is working with Sanford Health, Essentia Health, Altru Health System, Trinity Health and about 30 other providers to bring their information into the system.

A secure email system created to allow providers to share records has more than 650 users, and the number is growing daily, Wolf said.

He said a query-based system also is being developed to allow providers to search patient records by name, which will be especially valuable in emergency room situations requiring fast treatment and access to records.

Sharing records electronically will improve patient diagnoses and the coordination of care between providers, reduce duplicative testing, boost the safety of administering medications and reduce costs, among other benefits, officials said during Wednesday’s press conference at the state Capitol.

Dr. Brandon Price, a physician with St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, said the system will supply more information to doctors treating patients who travel from rural areas for surgeries and other procedures and will allow providers to better treat populations.

“The more data you have at your fingertips … the higher quality of care you can provide, and that’s what the (network) will do for us,” he said.

Most Americans’ health information is still stored in paper files and shared between providers via mail, fax or by patients carrying their records with them, McKenzie County Healthcare System CEO Dan Kelly said. The network “will change the delivery of health care in this state,” he said.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in January that North Dakota health care providers lead their peers from other states in adopting electronic health record systems. The report said 82.9 percent of North Dakota’s office-based physicians used a basic system in 2013, followed by Minnesota with 75.5 percent. The national average was 48.1 percent.

North Dakota lawmakers established the state’s Health Information Technology office in 2009, and an advisory committee also was formed to recommend ways to share health information electronically.

The Legislature created a $10 million revolving loan fund to help providers finance the costs of creating electronic record systems. To date, the fund has distributed $11.4 million in loans to 24 providers, Wolf said.

The initiative was funded by a $5.3 million federal grant, with the state providing matching funds.

Wolf said the state also has joined a national health information network to be able to share records electronically across state lines. The North Dakota network’s security is being tested for the national system, he said.  

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Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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