With deadlines nearing, states, hospitals rush to build-out health IT networks

States and hospitals are setting up health insurance exchanges and extending health IT networks in order to meet deadlines included in federal health reform initiatives.

The Obama administration’s health reform program faces some significant high tech milestones this fall, including those designed to promote interaction between healthcare providers and patients through the use of mobile technology.

In October, states will be required to launch health insurance exchanges, online markets where the public can shop and compare health insurance plans.

This fall is also when the second stage of the administration’s “meaningful use” plan kicks in. The plan provides financial incentives to hospitals and doctors providers who can show levels of “patient engagement” via the use of health IT.

In both cases, the organizations are demonstrating progress if not perfection in setting up the foundation for a national healthcare information system.

To help promote meaningful use, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services has launched a series of 31 mobile apps that let Medicare and Medicaid patients interact with providers or access HHS-sanctioned information about their healthcare.

The apps include tools for finding the nearest federally funded health center, body-mass index calculators and information for physicians on identifying preventive services appropriate for their patients.

For its part, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed apps that offer physicians up-to-date information on influenza activity and the latest diagnostic and treatment information. A separate app lets the public track “influenza-like illness” levels across the country and where they live.

According to a report in MobiHealthNews, the technologies help support the meaningful-use requirement that half of a provider’s patients have the ability to view their health records online. Kaiser Permanente, for one, told the MobiHealthNews that in 2012 already 4 million of its members viewed their health records through an online portal, with 22 percent of the traffic coming from mobile devices.

But while mobile access to healthcare providers seems to be blossoming, most consumers may have to wait until next year before using smartphones to fully tap into new state insurance exchanges.

In the rush to meet the October deadline to get the exchanges up and running, states have not generally had time to make them fully mobile-friendly. While shoppers may be able to use their mobile phones to view the portal and read some material, some features, such as detailed plan comparisons, may not be ready for smartphones.

Washington Health Benefit Exchange CIO Curtis Kwak told Government Technology that with an Oct. 1 deadline looming, the state did not have the chance to build mobile friendliness into the first version of the exchange. Instead, it’s teed up for version 2, planned for August 2014.

Still, those using larger mobile screens may be able to navigate the site or receive text reminders of their coverage status, Government Technology reported. “You always have this problem that you want to have the same content be presentable using different presentation media,” Manu Tandon, secretariat CIO at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services told Government Technology. “This is no different.”

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