CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal stimulus money will make it easier for health-care providers in West Virginia to computerize patients' medical records, Gov. Joe Manchin and other officials announced Tuesday.
The new West Virginia Regional Health Information Technology Extension Center will help primary-care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants start using electronic health records systems, Manchin and Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Patsy Hardy said at a Capitol news conference.
"In the short term, we will help physicians navigate the complex health information technology roadmap," Hardy said in a prepared statement.
Eventually, officials hope electronic health record systems will lower costs and improve care for West Virginians, especially in rural areas, she said.
State officials say the $6 million in federal funds will help 1,000 primary-care providers modernize their patient record systems.
Electronic health records are a key part of federal health-care reform. The stimulus act included billions of dollars to help the nation digitize records.
Computerized records help reduce errors, save time and improve communication among providers, said Dr. James Comerci of the Upper Ohio Valley Individual Practice Association. However, many doctor's offices don't have the staff or technical expertise to implement the systems on their own, he said.
The center will start educating primary-care providers, mostly in rural and underserved areas, starting this summer. A primary-care provider is a patient's first contact in the medical system.
The center also will help providers who treat Medicaid and Medicare patients qualify for the stimulus-funded financial incentives meant to offset the cost of implementing electronic health records systems.
The center is now operating in Scott Depot, but will likely move to Charleston by the end of summer, said Larry Malone, the center's director of communication and outreach.
Its efforts are part of a larger statewide strategy of improving care in rural West Virginia, Malone said. Other projects include the development of medical homes -- in which a primary-care physician coordinates all aspects of a patient's care -- and the use of telemedicine, which uses videoconferencing technology to connect doctors with patients over long distances.
Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.