CareSpark medical data system goes online

Rick Wagner • Nov 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Years ago a diabetic Tri-Cities man in insulin shock was mistakenly sent to a mental hospital in Knoxville instead of being treated for his physical ailment.

Frontier Health Chief Executive Officer Doug Varney remembers that instance well.

Years later, a school-age boy lost consciousness after a seizure and didn’t awaken for about two hours, and his parents couldn’t immediately be located.

But because emergency physicians had access to medical records indicating that often happened after his seizures, they simply hooked him up to an intravenous tube and waited for him to awaken instead of doing a spinal tap and battery of blood tests.

Dr. Jerry Miller, founder and president of Holston Medical Group, remembers that more recent incident well.

Both said their stories illustrate the importance of CareSpark, a new electronic medical records initiative in the greater Tri-Cities that aims to safeguard against mistakes like misdiagnosing the man in insulin shock, as well as improve the quality, speed and cost-effectiveness of health care by reducing redundancies.

CareSpark, a regional health information organization (RHIO) formally started as a not-for-profit group in 2005, has the region’s major health providers on board and plans to gather information on about 250,000 individuals over the next six months.

Officials Tuesday afternoon announced the formal launch of CareSpark during a news conference that drew about 50 people to Tri-Cities Regional Airport, which officials said was a fitting venue because the longtime regional entity is a starting place for journeys.

Data-share agreements with CareSpark exist with C-Health, Cardiovascular Associates, Clinch River Health Service, Cumberland Plateau Health District, Frontier Health, HMG, Mountain States Health Alliance, Southeast Pain Management Center, Southwest Virginia Community Health Systems, Sullivan County Regional Health Department, United Healthcare and Wellmont Health System.

The technical infrastructure was installed in August in OnePartner’s secure data center in Duffield.

“We are witnessing an event of the greatest significance to our region of anything that’s happened in the past three or four decades,” Miller said.

CareSpark Executive Director Liesa Jenkins said the RHIO has about 200,000 immunization records on file in aggregate but soon will start enrolling patients. In a year or so, Jenkins said patients in the system will be able to access their own health care information. Other plans include networking with federal agencies and other RHIOs.

“It’s an ambitious plan. It’s a dream of what can be,” said Mike Snow, interim chief executive office of Wellmont. “We’re investing in what can be.”

The CareSpark region has about 750,000 people. However, patients must sign up to have their health information put on the electronic records system.

Once in the CareSpark system, doctors performing routine physicals to providing emergency room care can access the patient’s crucial data about medical history, medications and allergies.

“You give me that (information), and I’m already a good doctor,” said Miller, a physician for 44 y

ears who hopes to enroll HMG’s more than 220,000 patients.

Miller said CareSpark addresses access at a time when most patients have multiple doctors and go to different hospital systems.

“Persistence pays off,” said MSHA CEO Dennis Vonderfecht, whose hospitals began using electronic medical records about six years ago. “It seems like it’s a journey that has no end in terms of time and/or resources.”

Vonderfecht also lauded Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co. for supporting the program with input and money.

Dr. John Dreyzehner, director of the Cumberland Plateau Health District in Southwest Virginia and immediate past chairman of the CareSpark board, said the initiative is a milestone of cooperative and collaborative spirit in the greater Tri-Cities, involving the competing Johnson City-based MSHA and Kingsport-based Wellmont.

“Today we really are beginning a journey,” Dreyzehner said of patients, providers, payers and employers involved with the program.

For more information go to www.carespark.com or ask your health care provider.

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