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1/17/2012
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Rhode Island Thinks Big About Health IT

Meet Rhode Island Quality Institute's CIO and see why Medicare thinks other states could learn from his big ideas.

They say good things come in small packages. That's what's happening in the tiniest state. Rhode Island has several ambitious health IT efforts underway, and soon the CIO of the Rhode Island Quality Institute--the organization leading many of those endeavors--will have an opportunity to share the state's innovative ideas with other leaders across the country, while also tapping their brains.

Gary Christensen, COO and CIO of RIQI, recently was chosen by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as one of its 73 new innovation advisors. The advisors, chosen from 920 applicants, will work with the CMS Innovation Center-- part of the Obama administration's healthcare reform strategy--to test new models of care delivery in local communities and share ideas that can be replicated elsewhere. Another hundred or more advisors are expected to be chosen by CMS later this year.

Despite the relative smallness of Rhode Island's size, the state--through the work by RIQI and others-- will demonstrate how its lofty health IT goals can provide a model that can be implemented and scaled up in larger communities and states, said Christensen in a recent interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.

[ What were hot buttons in health in 2011? See Top 9 Health IT Stories Of 2011. ]

For starters, Christensen said RIQI is the only organization in the country to receive HITECH Act funding for three of the act's biggest programs. That includes funding for RIQI to provide services as a regional extension center, to run the state's designated health information exchange, and also lead Rhode Island in its efforts as one of the nation's 17 Beacon Community programs.

"Rhode Island is an excellent Petri dish," said Christensen, a former divisional CIO at several companies in the financial services sector, who in 2009 joined RIQI. RIQI is a non-profit collaborative of healthcare leaders in Rhode Island, including CEOs from hospitals, health insurers, government, consumer groups, academia, and businesses. Its mission focuses on improving the quality, safety and value of healthcare in Rhode Island through IT innovations.

In his role as an innovation advisor--which will officially kick off in Baltimore later this month in the group's first meeting--Christensen hopes to share some of his experience related to those RIQI endeavors, as well as bring some inventive inspiration back home. "I hope to be exposed to interesting ideas that we can try to take a crack at implementing in Rhode Island," Christensen said.

As for RIQI, its work with the Rhode Island Beacon Community is focused on transitioning the state to a "patient-centered medical home" model for delivering healthcare with the aim of improving quality reporting.

RIQI's work as it relates to the Beacon Community and CurrentCare, Rhode Island's state-designated HIE, is focused on several goals. They include involving mental and behavioral health professionals in healthcare data sharing. These professionals for the most part aren't eligible to receive financial incentives in HITECH Act's Meaningful Use programs. However, Christensen thinks it's important for mental health professionals to be part of data-sharing efforts underway. In his view, they should be able to access test results, medication, and other data about their patients to help improve safety and quality of care of all patients in the state.

The goal is for healthcare providers to have more complete information about patients so that quality can be improved--whether it's helping a mental health professional avoid prescribing a medication that might interfere with a patient's heart drug, or reducing the impact of undiagnosed or untreated depression in patients. Having access to patient data also can reduce costs by avoiding the likelihood of ordering redundant or unnecessary tests and treatments--and that's another RIQI goal for the state, Christensen said.

"The healthcare industry feels like the financial services industry 20 year ago," said Christensen. "There is so much important information in doctors' offices, and they don't have a CIO," he said. RIQI's goal is to help make data sharing happen.

As healthcare providers of all shapes and sizes start implementing electronic medical records systems, security must be a top priority. Here's what you need to be thinking about to ensure your system is locked down. Download the report here (registration required).

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