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CareSpark to begin enrolling patients in April

February 11th, 2007 10:57 pm by TERESA HICKS

When it comes to information about your health, more is better. The more a doctor knows about you and your individual health conditions, test results, drug allergies and family history, the better he can serve you.

A Tri-Cities organization is laying the groundwork for a system that will help your doctor get the information he needs to provide you the best care, no matter where you go within the region - even if you're seeing a doctor you've never seen before.

"When it's all done, we'll have a way for physicians to link their office systems and their electronic records into a network. We'll also have a way for the patients to go online and look at the information that's in their records, so both the patients and the doctors can see the information that they need to see in order to make good medical decisions," said Liesa Jenkins, executive director of CareSpark.

CareSpark is what is known nationally as a RHIO - Regional Health Information Organization.

RHIOs are becoming more common across the country as the health care industry becomes streamlined through digital media. Both federal and state governments have shown interest in promoting better use of digital health information, and CareSpark has received government grants, including a $1 million commitment from the state of Tennessee.

National and state RHIO leaders believe networks like CareSpark will result in significant improvements in several key areas:

• Improved patient safety: When a doctor has more information about the patient at the point of care, he is less likely to prescribe medicine that could interact with other drugs the patient is taking or cause an allergic reaction.

• Decreased health care costs: Doctors sometimes perform duplicate tests on a patient because information about the patient's previous test is not readily available. For example, it's sometimes easier for the doctor to order another MRI than to try to get the results from the patient's last MRI, and that duplication raises costs for everyone.

CareSpark intends to make patients' test results available to any doctor, anywhere in the region, which would reduce the need for duplicate testing.

• Better patient outcomes: CareSpark officials believe better coordination among different practitioners caring for the same patient will result in more focused care and better overall health outcomes.

Additionally, the CareSpark system will have "best practice" guidelines built in, which will remind doctors to perform tests or screenings for an individual patient according to what his or her specific health conditions are.

"So for example, if it's time for (the patient) to have some kind of regular preventive immunization or screening for cancer ... then the system will alert (the doctor) to that," said Jenkins.

The CareSpark network also will include a database that will gather data about the health status of the region's residents, so public health officials can study the prevalence of health conditions like diabetes or cancer and target outreach, education or screening programs to address the community's greatest needs.

Jenkins said CareSpark will begin enrolling patients in April and will be in full operation by July. Participation in the network is voluntary for each resident in the region. Jenkins expects about 600,000 of the 750,000 people who live in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia will choose to participate. Patients can enroll in the network in three ways:

"No. 1 is through their employer or health plan, No. 2 is through their physician, and No. 3 is they themselves can personally contact CareSpark and say, ‘I'd like my records to be available through the system,' " Jenkins said.

In December, CareSpark was recognized by the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence with a Quality Commitment award. TNCPE uses the criteria for performance excellence set forth by the Baldrige National Quality Program as the evaluation tool.

Jenkins said, "When the director of the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence called to let me know about (the award) in December, she said, ‘To our knowledge, CareSpark is the very first organization that was built from day one, from the ground up, with these quality principles being the structure that the organization was built on. So we're very excited to see what happens with CareSpark and where you continue to evolve. It's very interesting for us to watch an organization from birth be built around the Baldrige criteria.' "

For more information about CareSpark, visit

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