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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Big Isle group gets $16M for medical info-tech

BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i County has been selected as one of 15 communities nationwide that will participate in a project to try to accelerate the use of information technology in the delivery of healthcare.

The Hawai'i County Beacon Community Consortium was awarded a $16.1 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant for the work.

"It's very exciting," said Karen Pellegrin, of the University of Hawai'i-Hilo's College of Pharmacy, which is the lead applicant in the consortium.

Pellegrin will be the principal investigator.

"Grants are always competitive but I was very hopeful because as a rural community we were so far ahead from a technological perspective that we would get noticed."

The award, announced locally by U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, is part of $220 million of Recovery Act funding announced yesterday under the Beacon Community project.

The program attracted more than 100 community applications and is aimed at laying the foundation for adopting innovative uses of information technology in healthcare.

"Beacon Communities will offer insight into how health IT can make a real difference in the delivery of health care," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a briefing yesterday.

"The Beacon Community Program will tap the best ideas across America and demonstrate the enormous benefit health IT will have to improving health and care within our communities."

Pellegrin said the consortium has three primary goals improving prevention of disease, increasing access to care and reducing health disparities among residents.

For example, by using health records and information exchanges, a physician might be better able to catch medication that an elderly person should not be taking. Specialists could be accessed over the Internet for care of patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

The system could include software alerting doctors to unhealthy blood glucose or other test results being uploaded to the system by patients, Pellegrin said.

The grant runs for three years, during which time the consortium hopes to have the system up and running and demonstrating success. The group includes community members, hospitals, Native Hawaiian health care providers, health centers and the Hawaii Medical Service Association.

HMSA has worked to get a health information exchange implemented on the Big Island, as well as offering grants to doctors who want to use electronic medical records.

"We're extraordinarily excited, as are the rest of the folks in the consortium," said HMSA spokeswoman Elisa Yadao.

She said the group wants to create a healthcare delivery system that's sustainable and responsible and used by the community.