Partners in Nebraska’s health information system are taking next steps to improve health outcomes — and the state’s IT workforce — through data.

The Nebraska Health Information Initiative, or NEHII, has been working to link patient records collected by physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other health care entities across the state for roughly a decade. An ER doctor in Kearney, for instance, now can check the medications and health history of a visiting Omahan who lands in her hospital.

But so far, that data has been put to limited use with questions involving larger groups of patients, known as population health. That may involve checking whether at-risk groups, such as diabetics, are getting recommended eye and foot screenings on time and reaching out to those who aren’t.

The new Nebraska Healthcare Collaborative will focus on bolstering both the expertise and tools needed to tap that data, said Jamie Bland, NEHII’s CEO.

“The promise of health information technology will be realized through this partnership,” she said.

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Tim Meyers, president of WellCare of Nebraska, said the firm will set aside $5 million for the establishment of the collaborative and an additional $5 million to set up endowed chairs at research universities, namely the University of Nebraska and Creighton University.

The funds come from reinvestment funds as part of WellCare’s contract with the state to manage health care provided through Medicaid. Meyers said the funds are a return of earnings in 2017.

Matthew Van Patton, director of Medicaid and long-term care with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, hailed the moves as key in helping to improve health and reduce costs for Nebraskans.

“There are moments in life when you just know what is happening around you is monumental,” he said. “I believe we’re here standing at one of those moments.”

Bland said NEHII now handles requests from researchers seeking data. The establishment of the collaborative solidifies that relationship and adds NEHII’s expertise to help tap and interpret the data.

Work study, internship and fellowship opportunities will be available for students through the collaborative. The new NEHII Foundation, also officially launched last week, will help provide ongoing funding for those programs through fundraising and grants.

The collaborative also will make available opportunities for population health research in nursing, Bland said.

In addition, it will help doctors and others across the state boost their data skills so they can track and improve the health of their own patients.

Said Dr. Ann Polich, vice president of quality and performance with Methodist Health System: “This health care collaborative will be instrumental in closing the gap between data science and clinical care.”

NEHII also continues to expand its network. Bland said the initiative now connects 70% of health care organizations in the state — including hospitals, clinics and labs — with the aim of building more complete, long-term health records for patients.

That’s in line with an initiative outlined by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Nebraska is on the “leading and bleeding edge” in a number of areas in health information technology, she said. NEHII has been asked to make presentations to CMS officials and lawmakers at an upcoming health IT event in Washington, D.C.

In 2018, Nebraska became the first state in the nation to require daily logging of all prescription drugs dispensed to Nebraskans through its prescription drug monitoring program. The state contracts with NEHII to maintain the database.

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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