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N.J. awards $1M to South Jersey hospitals group to build digital network

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To include the state's southern counties in a push to improving health care delivery through the real-time exchange of patient information, the New Jersey Department of Health has awarded a $1 million grant to a new health information organization of seven South Jersey hospitals.

Richard Wheatley, chief information officer of Cape Regional Medical Center — which formed the nonprofit NJSHINE organization with South Jersey Healthcare and Shore Medical Center — said the group's efforts to supply hospitals, physicians, nursing homes and other providers in South Jersey with immediate access to patient data will reduce the need for unnecessary tests, resulting in a more efficient and less costly regional health care system.

"Prior to NJSHINE, hospitals and health care providers operated in data silos, (so) access to other providers systems was only provided on a one-on-one basis," Wheatley said in an e-mail. "NJSHINE will provide a single repository and source for health care information and provide the necessary tools to allow data to be exchanged between electronic medical records … to ensure that health care information is available to all those responsible for the care of patients in our communities."

To accomplish those goals, Wheatley said Cape Regional recently started the process of bringing electronic medical records systems, called EMRs, to its eight affiliated offices as a way of facilitating the real-time exchange of health information between area practitioners and hospitals. In the future, patient medical data from Cape Regional Medical Center will be connected to the four other health information organizations previously established in the state through the same $14 million federal program, allowing the data to be shared across New Jersey.

Though the hospitals and practices within New Jersey's five HIOs will run EMR systems supplied by different vendors, Cathleen Bennett, director of policy and strategic planning for the state Department of Health, said the network is designed so "every single HIO has the ability to transmit information the same, pull the same data and pull the same data in the same method no matter what version they have" — which she said will help the providers remain interconnected even as technology changes.

For now, NJSHINE will help seven hospitals, 400 health providers and 22 practices in South Jersey exchange patient information, like medical histories, medication allergies and test results. The other New Jersey HIOs include Health-e-Citi, in Newark; Trenton HIE, in Trenton; Camden HIE, in Camden; and Jersey Health Connect, which covers all counties in northern and central New Jersey.

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