ABINGDON — A 2003 vision of easily shared electronic medical records has become a reality five years later.
Officials of CareSpark, a nonprofit regional health information organization (RHIO) that started planning in 2003 and formed in 2005, on Tuesday announced the network is now online and operating.
CareSpark officials also announced they have picked up another partner, the University of Virginia Cancer Center with local affiliates in Southwest Virginia.
A CareSpark display at the Medical Technology Summit, held Monday and Tuesday at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, showed how CareSpark could allow medical records to be shared by general practitioners, specialists, hospitals and other health care facilities, reducing redundant tests and flagging potential drug interactions.
CareSpark plans to add a “patient portal” in the future, allowing patients to view their own medical records online. The system has safeguards to keep medical information secure, with access limited to medical professionals and patients.
“We’re now open for business,” said Dr. David Reagan, board chairman for CareSpark and chief of staff for the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Johnson City. “We are adding partners almost on a weekly basis.”
The newest addition is the UVa Cancer Center, centered in Charlottesville with affiliated centers in Abingdon and Norton.
“The goal is to allow the best care to be given to cancer patients in the region,” Reagan said during a noon news conference.
David Catell-Gordon, director of the rural network development for the UVa Cancer Center, said CareSpark will be a tool to help in prevention of cancer, as well as early detection and local treatment.
“The (cancer) numbers for the region are higher than they should be,” Catell-Gordon said during the news conference.
The cancer center has contributed $50,000 to CareSpark and will work through CareSpark through its Healthy Appalachia project.
Others participating in the network are Clinch River Health Service, Cumberland Plateau Health District, Holston Medical Group, Southwest Virginia Community Health Services and the Sullivan County Health Department. However, patients will have the ability to opt out of the system even if their provider opts into it.
“People will incrementally sign on as they understand it,” Reagan said. “We now have an infrastructure that can be expanded to accommodate any who wish to participate in secure exchange of information. We will soon be able to connect to other networks across the nation so that no matter where or when a patient receives care, the information can be accessible to diagnose and treat appropriately.
He said the VA hospital will also participate with CareSpark, since both are in a national electronic medical records program.
The VA’s focus will be on managing various medicines that veterans receive from inside and outside the VA system, he said.
The system will help since the VA physicians also see patients in Morristown, the VA plans to open centers in Rogersville and Norton before year’s end, and it is working on a Sevierville center.
The bottom line, Reagan said, is that CareSpark will help improve health care for people.
“CareSpark is not about technology,” Reagan said. “It’s about health care. It’s about improving health care for people in this region.”
Liesa Jenkins, executive director of Kingsport-headquartered CareSpark, said CareSpark’s service area — nine Southwest Virginia counties and eight in Northeast Tennessee — includes about 750,000 people, 1,500 physicians and 21 hospitals.
The Southwestern Virginia Technology Council’s Medical Technology Summit included Allscripts as a platinum sponsor and GE Healthcare, Holston Medical Group, Wellmont Health System and the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center as gold sponsors.
For more information visit www.carespark.com.