by Ed Weathers
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (left) is bemused and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbous seems amused as Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen consults his muse before members of the Tri-State Press Associations' annual summer conference at The Peabody Friday.
Governor Phil Bredesen visited Memphis on Friday, stopping by the University of Memphis to announce a new Southwest Tennessee health initiative to improve care in the area. The project, or ÒVolunteer eHealth InitiativeÓ will electronically link hospitals, doctors, clinics, and other health-care stakeholders in the three-county area of Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton. To assist with the program Bredesen has allocated up to $10 million of state dollars to fund the initial phase of the program during the next five years. If successful in this region, the program could be expanded statewide. The state, in a partnership with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will manage Volunteer eHealth. Ò[The initiative] is receiving top priority at the state level,Ó said Bredesen. ÒTechnology is improving virtually every aspect of our daily lives. ItÕs time we start making better use of it to improve patient care and to make our health-care system more efficient.Ó The project began as part of long-term efforts to reform TennCare, but after exploration of the possible benefits of the program, the initiative was expanded to include all residents in this area. Bredesen was joined at the FedEx Institute of Technology by Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, Health Department Director Yvonne Madlock, state senator Roscoe Dixon, and hospital representatives supporting the plan. More than a dozen health-care entities, like The Med, Baptist Hospitals, and the Shelby County Health Department, have pledged their support as charter members of the project. These organizations will participate in a six-month planning process to develop the program. Part of the planning will focus on creating a medical record for each patient to be accessed wherever they seek care, and share the latest best care practices between physicians. Through data sharing, the project is expected to reduces the costs of duplicating time-consuming tests ordered by physicians for the same patient. To adhere to HIPAA health-care privacy laws, physicians would have to receive a patientÕs permission before admitting their information into the technology system. Bredesen said it is unknown how this process will be administered. ÒThere are other states that have some technology like this, but nothing locally,Ó said Med president and CEO Bruce Steinhauer. Ò[Local] hospitals share information about patients with each other now through faxes and e-mails and things, but the process is cumbersome. So many of our patients are uninsured so they go from place to place to receive care, and this will really help us to keep track of their care.Ó Memphis was chosen as the site for the initial phase due to its large concentration of TennCare patents. Of the 260,000 enrollees, about 18 percent live in Memphis and Shelby County, more than any other area statewide.