If you have been to a doctor in New Jersey in the past year you may have noticed the new technology in medicine. Instead of taking notes on paper, your doctor taps on a tablet computer as he discusses your health.

The nurse who takes your blood pressure enters the numbers into another handheld computer, and when you reach the front desk, you are handed several papers that include a synopsis of your visit, information on any additional tests that you need and are told your prescriptions have just been sent to your pharmacy and will be ready for pick-up when you arrive there. Some pharmacies will even send you a text when your prescription is ready.

“We are doing a remarkable job of advancing healthcare information technology throughout New Jersey,” says Colleen Woods, health information coordinator for the state. Between 40 and 50 percent of hospitals, physicians, and nurse practitioners have implemented the new technology, and Woods says the state will begin connecting the new health information network for the state early next year.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama’s economic stimulus bill. It is designed to support electronic sharing of clinical data among hospitals, physicians, and other healthcare professionals.

The act provides financial incentives for the use of the technology by healthcare providers and authorizes Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to encourage eligible professionals and hospitals to adopt and use certified electronic health record systems.

A Health Information Technology Summit will be presented by the NJ Technology Council and the New Jersey Health Information Technology Coordinator on Thursday, July 19, at 8 a.m. at the New Jersey Hospital Association, 760 Alexander Road, Princeton. Cost: $60.

Along with Woods, speakers include John Dalton and John Riganati, co-presidents of the New Jersey Technology Solutions Center, Al Campanella of the NJ Health IT Commission, and Harry Greenspun, senior advisor, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

The panel will discuss the current challenges facing healthcare providers as well as the future of healthcare information technology in an evolving care setting including personalized real-time patient data, tele-medicine, and mobile health care management.

Woods was appointed the health information technology coordinator in 2010 by Governor Chris Christie. She is responsible for working with all state departments and agencies, the healthcare provider community, and others to implement and facilitate HIT adoption across the state and in accordance with nationally recognized standards.

Prior to her appointment, she served as the chief information officer of the state Department of Human Services, overseeing information technology for that department, and the Department of Children and Families.

She has worked for the state in a variety of executive roles at the Office of Information Systems and the Department of Law and Public Safety. She served as a member of the Health Information Technology Commission and the Governor’s Inter-departmental Policy Task Force on the Development of Heath Information Exchange for the state.

Woods received both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in public administration, the first from Montclair State University, and the second from Rutgers.

“I’ve worked with government throughout my whole career. As I got more and more involved in technology I decided to go back to school and get another degree in that area,” she says. She received a master’s certificate for Information Technology Management from George Washington University.

“Connecting healthcare providers and hospitals is going to greatly improve healthcare,” she says. “Everyone I speak with has a story of a situation where better information could have changed a medical outcome.”

Her own family’s experience has made working with healthcare technology personally rewarding.

Her father died as a result of a reaction to a medication that could have been prevented with better information sharing. “Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t available at the time, but helping others prevent this kind of situation is very important to me,” she says.

Information Sharing. Woods sees improving the quality of information in the emergency room about patients’ medical histories and medications as one of the most important aspects of healthcare information technology. Hospitals throughout the state will begin early in 2013. Healthcare providers will be connected through a statewide and nationwide exchange.

“There are many hospitals, physicians, and other healthcare providers already participating in one of the state’s regional health information organizations,” says Woods. Called HIOs, they allow health data to be gathered confidentially and securely from all of a patient’s providers and then shared among physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, and laboratories within the organization’s membership.

The New Jersey Health Information Network will facilitate data exchange among the HIOs operating in the state, allowing them to access state data sources such as Medicaid and immunization registry information, and connect to other states through a Nationwide Health Information Network.

Security Concerns. Woods likens the technology to that used by ATMs, which makes access to personal bank records available instantly from almost anywhere in the world. “But of course,” she adds, “our medical records are even more personal than our banking records. We want the appropriate people to have access to our records, but we want it to be done securely. People who are working in this area feel a real obligation to insure the security of the records they are working with.”

The HITECH Act includes a series of privacy and security provisions that expand the current requirements of the HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, strengthening the enforcement of the privacy rules, including the right to be notified in the event of a breach of identifiable health information.

Helping Healthcare Providers. Before networking and sharing can occur, however, individual practitioners must learn to make use of the technology. NJ-HITEC was granted $23 million in federal funds to establish a statewide regional extension center and is currently assisting physician offices with the adoption and use of the technology.

Woods is happy with the number of practitioners who have adopted the technology in the past two years. “But we still need everyone to participate to make it truly successful,” she says. “Connected healthcare can transform healthcare delivery.”

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