The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 22, 2004
“Electronic medical records are taking root locally”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Taconic Health Information Network and Community project (THINC) is a pioneering effort to create a regional health information network, and an example that may be picked up in communities across the U.S. The Taconic/THINC program encompasses New York’s Hudson River Valley and more than 600,000 patients as well as their hospitals, doctors, labs, pharmacies, and other groups.

Over 100 other state and local groups nationwide are setting up similar networks, obtaining federal funding and nonprofit support and getting employers and insurers to create financial incentives such as for participating doctors. These local initiatives seek to organize and simplify the healthcare system for their region, and a lynchpin to the program is converting patients’ medical records to electronic files while getting doctors to begin using new technology that speeds up the old processes and minimizes errors and delays. Regional efforts are said to be able to reduce medical errors – improving patient safety; provide better care to patients because more information will be available faster to them and their providers; and such simple things as prescriptions will be quickly processed at pharmacies.

Eliminating costly errors, duplicated tests and unneeded procedures are said to be a source for significant savings, and are one key to these efforts to control rising healthcare costs.

"The simple vision is that we want to see every American covered by one or more regional health-information organizations," David Brailer told the Journal. He was appointed in 2004 by the Bush administration as the nation's first health-information-technology coordinator.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says a national health-information network can save about $140 billion, or about 10 percent of total health-care spending. It has pledged about $100 million to fund small pilot projects, according to the Journal.

Under the Taconic THINC project, health plan MVP Health Care is reportedly paying participating doctors 40 cents per patient per month, which can help offset the less than $1,000 monthly cost to doctors of using the electronic system. Within about a year, patients are expected to be able to log on to the system to view their medical records and communicate securely with doctors.