Health Care

State of Kansas to oversee digital health information exchanges

The board that oversees several digital health information exchanges is being absorbed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Five members of the Kansas Health Information Exchange Inc. voted to relinquish power to the state to oversee the continued creation and regulation of sharing and transferring electronic medical records for patients in Kansas. The board currently oversees the Kansas Health Information Network that is over the Wichita Health Information Exchange, which was created with the help of the Medical Society of Sedgwick County.

Different entities in the state are creating more digital networks to share information as part of a national move toward making medical records and health information more accessible electronically.

Joe Davison, who practices family medicine at West Wichita Family Physicians, is the chairman of KHIE and a board member of Wichita’s exchange. He said the decision was not easy for the board, but that the move was the only way to sustain KHIE’s mission for the long haul. Many other states’ information exchanges have failed, and they didn’t want that to happen in Kansas, he said.

Eight of 17 KHIE board seats are vacant, but the five who voted still made a quorum, Davison said. Several board members had resigned over the past year and a half because of different conflicts.

The decision will require legislative approval for a transfer of power, tentatively by October 2013.

“I felt and the board also felt that the positives of the transition outweigh the negatives,” Davison said. “Our primary concern was that whatever we do, we act to make sure the health information exchange of Kansas is vibrant and sustainable. That’s why we made a very tough decision.”

The current board members are appointed by the governor. Under the new system, the board will be appointed by the KDHE secretary.

“KDHE did not force anybody to do this,” Davison said. “They came and said they might be able to help, so we studied it as a board and made the executive decision that it was a legitimate way to ensure the success of the exchange going into the future.”

Jon Rosell, WHIE secretary and executive director for the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, said the KHIE move shouldn’t affect Wichita’s exchange.

“We’re supportive of this transition from KHIE to KDHE and think that in the long run, Kansas patients and providers will be better served by this activity being monitored or directed by KDHE,” Rosell said.

KDHE Deputy Secretary Aaron Dunkel said the transition will save about $400,000 in operating costs per year, and that much of the savings will come from the elimination of executive director Bill Wallace’s salary and other operational costs, such as rent and equipment.

KDHE will likely absorb the two other staff members with KHIE, at least during the duration of a federal grant.

KHIE received a $9 million federal grant a couple of years ago, but KDHE acted as an administrator of the grant funds for KHIE.

Dunkel said he doesn’t anticipate any policy changes.

“It’s really just about moving forward and saving funding and saving dollars in the long run,” Dunkel said. “Our big concern is about not creating barriers for docs, and the biggest barrier in some of this is price, so we’re trying to reduce the cost of (health information exchanges) in Kansas.”

Wichita’s exchange went live during the first week of August through Via Christi Hospital and Wesley Medical Center. As of last week, about 12 percent of Wichita patients’ records have been included in the exchange, Rosell said. Patients must give permission to be included.

Rosell estimates that the number will continue to grow and will include ambulatory offices by January.