Governor touts high-tech care

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Missouri's Medicaid system could stand to learn a thing or two from Jiffy Lube, Gov. Matt Blunt said during a visit Tuesday to Cross Trails Medical Center in Cape Girardeau.

At Jiffy Lube, "they've got all the information on your car. They can tell you what kind of oil it uses, details about repairs that have been done, how many miles it has. There's no reason we should have better information about our vehicles than we have about our bodies," Blunt said.

The visit was part of a four-city tour by the governor highlighting how technology would be used to aid health care under his proposed MO HealthNet overhaul of the state's Medicaid system.

Unlike Jiffy Lube, Blunt said, most health-care providers have no way to access details about patient history. To remedy that situation, the state recently created CyberAccess, a Web tool for Medicaid providers and patients. The system, a database of patients' medical histories, is accessible by all health-care providers.

"At the hospital a parent might not be able to remember what care Jack has received or whether he got the final dose of his tetanus vaccine. And you can't easily access his health records today," said Blunt, using a hypothetical case of a child who steps on a nail and needs treatment.

The state created CyberAccess last year at a cost of $3.4 million. Through the system, providers can access a patient's current prescriptions, past prescriptions and past treatments. The money is part of the $25 million Health-care Technology Fund signed into law by Blunt in 2006.

"This will make sure the first health-care decision is the right health-care decision for that patient," Blunt said.

Within five years, CyberAccess expects to have the records of 520,000 of Missouri's 887,000 Medicaid patients.

State Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, was in the delegation. He said cumbersome paperwork is killing Missourians, citing a report by the not-for-profit Institute of Medicine that determined as many as 98,000 people die each year nationwide due in part to errors in medical records.

Shields said the inability to cross-reference prescriptions is a problem. "Every day you see the elderly person come in with a bag full of prescription drugs in a Ziplock. There may be 12 drugs in there, and three of them interact with each other, and then they wonder why they're sick," he said.

Blunt was joined at Tuesday's meeting by Shields, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, state Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, and state Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau.

Following the speeches, Cross Trails nurses gave a demonstration of one way technology is already improving health care. Using Cross Trails' video conference equipment, the facility was able to communicate with a dermatologist in Columbia, Mo., to diagnose a recurrent skin rash of a Cape Girardeau patient introduced as Christine. Christine said for about a year she has experienced a red, bumpy rash on her arms and chest. After an inspection of the affected area, Dr. Karen Edison of the University of Missouri-Columbia diagnosed the affliction as keratosis pilaris, a common skin problem.

Without that technology, said Cross Trails CEO Vicki Smith, Medicaid patients in many parts of the state would be forced to travel long distances to get specialty care like dermatology from Medicaid providers.

Smith said Cross Trails purchased the equipment in 2003 with the help of state grants and uses it two to five times per week. Blunt is calling for $5 million of the upcoming state budget to go toward technology upgrades in Federally Qualified Health Centers like Cross Trails.

The videoconferencing is done through the MU Telehealth Network, a state program that connects more than 2,000 patients annually with specialists in Columbia. Most patients live in rural areas of the state.

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