"The nation has moved beyond the question of Should we support an interoperable, electronic health care system and the exchange of information across organisations to help patients? to What are the steps we need to take to make this happen?", stated Janet M. Marchibroda, Chief Executive Officer of the eHealth Initiative and Executive Director of the Foundation for eHealth Initiative. "There's a real need in communities across America for expert insight and information on implementing information technology in health care."
The primary vehicle for disseminating information in the Community Learning Network is an on-line information sharing network and resource centre for communities, which aims to help organisations that are moving from paper-based record-keeping to electronic health records (EHR) and are creating an interoperable infrastructure to mobilize and share information across institutions within their communities.
The intense community-level interest in electronic health information exchange was highlighted by the overwhelming response in December 2003 to the Foundation's Connecting Communities for Better Health Programme request for capabilities. Funding requests poured in from 134 multi-stakeholder collaboratives within communities in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Programme eligibility criteria included involvement of at least three stakeholder groups, a clinical focus, the use of standards, and matching funds.
The Community Learning Network is an extensive and growing repository of materials on health information exchange that reflects current research as well as practical, "on the ground" advice and lessons learned from national health care IT experts and pioneering implementers in communities that are engaging in electronic health information exchange. The Network also includes a unique "Community Directory" section, which opens a window into the future of health care in America by profiling the work being done to mobilize health information by each of the 134 multi-stakeholder collaboratives that responded to the Connecting Communities Programme request for capabilities statement.
Information in the Network is organised within seven categories: Communities, Financial, Clinical, Patients/Consumers, Organisations, Technology, and Legal. Among the many topics covered in depth are: securing funding and creating sustainability through business models, addressing technical architecture, applications, and standards challenges; assuring the private and secure exchange of information, supporting clinician adoption and clinical process change, and engaging patients and consumers.
Further, in order to maximize usability of the on-line resource centre, the information can be viewed by various perspectives: employers/purchasers, clinicians, hospitals and other providers, rural health, public health agencies, policy-makers and researchers and community health centres. Key partners working with the Foundation for eHealth Initiative on the Connecting Communities for Better Health Programme include the Center for Information Technology Leadership (CITL) chartered by Partners HealthCare System, and the Regenstrief Institute. In addition, David J. Brailer, MD, PhD, a Senior Fellow with the Health Technology Center, is serving as a senior advisor to the Programme.
"Our Community Learning Network partners are nationally recognized leaders in the field of health care IT and electronic health information exchange. Their involvement and leadership enriches our effort. Together, we can offer a unique resource to eager communities throughout our country and provide a tangible way to address the significant quality, safety and cost shortfalls of our current health care system", stated Lori M. Evans, MPH, MPP, Vice President of the Foundation for eHealth Initiative and Director of the Connecting Communities for Better Health Programme.
"Importantly, the Community Learning Network will enable a broad spectrum of stakeholders to learn about practical solutions that can be employed to overcome barriers to interconnected health care IT", stated John Glaser, PhD, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Partners HealthCare System and President of the Foundation for eHealth Initiative Board of Directors. The target audience for the Community Learning Network includes practising clinicians, payers, hospitals and other health care organisations, public health agencies, employers and health care purchasers, health care information technology suppliers, consumer and patient groups, and federal and state agencies.
"Many of us know from experience that introducing information technology in the health care setting offers a myriad of challenges", stated J. Marc Overhage, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine; Senior Investigator, Regenstrief Institute; and leading partner in the Foundation's Connecting Communities for Better Health Programme. "The Community Learning Network gives early adopters of health care IT a vehicle for broadly sharing what we know about best practices and techniques, so those just now entering the arena can benefit from the lessons we have learned in Indianapolis."
The Community Learning Network will also provide a central point of collaboration and co-ordination for common issues related to health information exchange. "This resource centre will collect and develop knowledge and experience and produce tools and solutions that will speed the diffusion of information technology in health care", stated David J. Brailer, MD, PhD, Senior Fellow, Health Technology Center and Senior Advisor to the Foundation's Connecting Communities for Better Health Programme.
In the Administration and in Congress, there is strong and growing support for the United States to transform medical record-keeping from a largely paper-based enterprise to a modern, electronic model. Electronic connectivity and the use of interoperable, standards-based information systems in health care can help patients receive necessary and timely medical treatment, reduce medical errors, and enable public health officials to more quickly identify and respond to threats from naturally occurring diseases and potential bioterror attacks. The current FY 2004 and proposed FY 2005 President's budgets include $50 million and $100 million, respectively, for health care IT demonstration projects, responding to the rapidly growing interest by communities and health care stakeholders across the country who are interested in using IT and health information exchange to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of health care.
The Community Learning Network is an important innovation that will spur movement toward a widely-held vision of an interconnected, electronic health information infrastructure that supports patients, clinicians and those responsible for population health. As another component of the Foundation for eHealth Initiative's effort to help communities mobilize information to support and improve patient care, the Foundation will hold its First Annual Connecting Communities for Better Health Learning Forum and Exhibition on June 24-25, 2004 at the Omni Hotel in Washington, D.C. This practical, hands-on interactive meeting will present yet another learning and networking opportunity for those planning or implementing health information exchange collaboration or electronic health records.
The purpose of the Connecting Communities for Better Health Programme is to provide seed funding and technical support to multi-stakeholder collaboratives within communities - both geographic and non-geographic - that are using electronic health information exchange and other IT tools to drive improvements in health care quality, safety and efficiency. Funded under a co-operative agreement with the Health Resources and Services Administration Office for the Advancement of Telehealth, Connecting Communities for Better Health is implementing activities on a national, regional and local basis that will lay the foundation for an interconnected, electronic, standards-based health information infrastructure to support patients, clinicians and those responsible for population health.
The eHealth Initiative and the Foundation for eHealth Initiative are independent, non-profit affiliated organisations whose missions are the same: to drive improvement in the quality, safety, and efficiency of health care through information and information technology. Both organisations are focused on engaging multiple and diverse stakeholders, including hospitals and other health care organisations, clinician groups, employers and purchasers, health plans, health care information technology organisations, manufacturers, public health agencies, academic and research institutions, and public sector stakeholders, to define and then implement specific actions that will address the quality, safety and efficiency challenges of the health care system through the use of interoperable information technology.
The on-line Community Learning Network can be found at the Web site of the Foundation for eHealth Initiative.