The State of Maine in partnership with HealthInfoNet, Maine’s statewide health information exchange (HIE), was recently awarded a three-year grant to improve care coordination for Maine’s veterans. Awarded by the Health Research and Services Administration (HRSA), the funding will be used to connect the VA Maine Healthcare System comprised of the medical center located in Augusta and 11 outpatient clinics to the health information exchange. The State will receive $300,000 for the first year and expects a similar award amount for years two and three.
Recent projections from the VA Office of Rural Health show 12.8% of Maine residents are veterans, the fifth highest per capita population in the country. Because Maine is a large rural state, access to VA facilities can be challenging and veterans must also seek care from their community’s private hospitals, mental health providers, community health centers and physician practices. This makes it difficult for both a veteran’s VA and private providers to coordinate their care, something critical to improving quality and reducing costs.
Many of Maine’s private providers are connected to Maine’s HIE to help them more easily share a patient’s medical information when necessary. But for veterans, the care they receive in Maine’s VA facilities is not accessible through the HIE and VA providers are unable to access information from private providers using the system. This means providers are often unaware of services their patients receive outside the VA or private health care systems.
This funding will bridge a critical gap in care coordination by facilitating both a veteran’s VA and private providers to share critical health information when it’s needed to care for them, regardless of where that veteran is treated. Once connection is in place, VA providers will have access to the statewide HIE and veterans will be able to choose to share their VA records with private providers also using the HIE.
“We understand the critical nature of being able to share medical information in a timely manner,’’ said Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. “This grant will help to build a link between systems that will greatly improve data sharing related to the care of Maine’s large and growing veteran population. A system that allows for real-time access of information and that produces a comprehensive medical record will improve the quality of care while reducing errors and the duplication of services. This project is aligned with many efforts underway in Maine to improve the exchange of vital health information, which is essential in our rural State.”
“We’re thrilled to be connecting Maine’s VA providers with the HIE,” said HealthInfoNet CEO, Devore Culver. “We believe this funding will allow us to demonstrate a model for interoperability between the VA and private health providers that can be replicated across the nation.”
Maine’s Congressional delegation, whom all sent in letters of support for the project, issued a joint statement applauding HRSA’s award decision. “Like the Department of Veterans Affairs itself, Maine has led the nation in adoption of health information technology and was one of the first to build a statewide health information exchange. Until now, our VA facilities have not been able to connect to this leading system to coordinate care of their patients. This funding will extend the benefits of health information exchange to Maine’s veterans and the many dedicated medical professionals who care for them within our VA facilities. This will both improve the quality of care and reduce the cost of care for Maine veterans.”