Va. Gov. Tim Kaine speaks during a press conference in Gate City Wednesday. David Grace photo.
GATE CITY - A Kingsport company was one of three health care businesses to receive a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Health Information Technology Council.
CareSpark, a regional health information organization, received the money for a health information technology project designed to provide doctors, hospitals and other health care providers with instant access to patient records.
A patient may get an X-ray at one doctor, then have to go to another practitioner who could need that X-ray. Instead of the practitioner having to order a second X-ray, CareSpark will allow the doctor to look at the X-ray taken at another office, said CareSpark's James Watson.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, state Sens. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell, and William Wampler, R-Bristol, Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, and a host of area health care officials attended the official announcement of the grant winners at the Lenowisco Health Department in Gate City.
"I get a little passionate about this. I feel it is an investment worthwhile," Wampler said. "The word is interoperability - to make sure that that image, wherever it is sent - can be read.
"With a push of the button, that image can be transmitted wherever you want to send it. With the bandwidth we have in Southwest Virginia, that image will be sent to any facility that can receive it. If the data gets there and can't be received, it will look like a Chinese e-mail."
With CareSpark, that won't be a problem, he said.
The funding from the Virginia Health Information Technology Council was divided among CareSpark; MedVirginia, a Richmond agency improving medication management; and the Community Care Network of Virginia, which has centers across the state providing health care.
With 61 entries, it was hard to narrow the winners down to three. Up-front costs for the transition to electronic health records can be a barrier, but the council's grant can help, Kaine said.
Kaine formed the council in August and charged its members with finding the investments that would best encourage the transition to electronic medical records.
Of 61 entries, CareSpark, MedVirginia and CCNV were the winners. It was tough to narrow the field, and the other entries deserved to be considered, Kaine said. The $750,000 allocated to the three companies is part of $1.4 million allocated by the 2006 General Assembly. The council will meet later this spring to determine where the remainder of the funds will be used.
While the purpose of the grant was to integrate technology into the medical record keeping process, Puckett noted that "this is about technology in no small way, but what it is really about is people."
Wampler showed the group at the reception X-rays taken during a surgery he underwent in Richmond. When, due to complications, he was forced to be hospitalized in Charlottesville, immediate access to electronic images of those X-rays would have been helpful, he said.
CareSpark Vice Chairman Dr. David Reagan said more than 40 affiliates in business and health care from around Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia are invested in CareSpark.
"When it comes to health information, what you don't know can hurt you. And it isn't only what you don't know, it is when you know it."
CareSpark is dedicated to ensuring that doctors are given the right information at the right time, he said.
"Health care is a complex system, like a big complex team that needs to communicate together to achieve its results," Reagan said. "We need the ability to securely share health information on demand. That is really where electronic records can come in."
Other agencies have tried to do what CareSpark is doing, Watson said. The difference is, they were individual health care providers or insurance agencies. They were not neutral enough to work with others.
Different entities can securely share information with other entities through a collaborative, nonprofit, community-accountable organization dedicated to this purpose, Reagan said.
CareSpark can provide a neutral zone for different care providers.
"This support from the state of Virginia will greatly assist us in building the technical infrastructure to allow that just-in-time health information sharing," he said.
CareSpark will serve about 750,000 residents in Sullivan, Washington, Johnson, Carter, Unicoi, Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties in Tennessee and Lee, Wise, Scott, Washington, Smyth, Russell, Buchanan, Dickenson and Tazewell counties in Virginia.