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Federal grant to improve state's medical technology

DeKALB – A federal grant will allow Northern Illinois University to take the lead in improving medical technology in Illinois, school officials said Thursday.

The $7.5 million grant, which will be dispersed over two years, is from the federal stimulus package. The funding will be used to create a Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center to help doctors throughout the state adopt digital health information records that can be shared quickly and securely.

The NIU center will be one of 70 such facilities nationwide and will cover all of Illinois, with the exception of Chicago, NIU President John Peters said. Northwestern University is receiving $7.6 million to create a Regional Extension Center to serve those residents. Officials hope to have the system substantially complete in two years, according to a news release from NIU.

“We are delighted to announce that Northern Illinois University has been selected to receive a grant that will help create a health care revolution across the state of Illinois,” Peters said Thursday during a news conference at the NIU Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center in DeKalb.

The goal of the centers is to create an electronic medical records system that allows any medical professionals to pull up all information about a patient, with the aim of improving care and cutting costs. All of the information is protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which mandates medical information be confidential.

The grant will allow physicians to utilize the REC’s services at a minimal cost, according to NIU officials. Starting in 2011, the federal government will increase Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements rates for physicians who have the systems in place and are using them.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Batavia, said the REC will create and retain 105 jobs. The RECs will work with priority care providers, such as doctors who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients. Those doctors provide about 80 percent of the nations’ health care, he said, but only 20 percent are using electronic health records.

Dr. Stasia Kahn, with the Fox Prairie Medical Group in St. Charles and the vice president of Northern Illinois Physicians for Connectivity, said she has had electronic medical records for more than seven years. Using them provides a bevy of benefits, she said, such as allowing her to see what medications her patients are already on so she won’t prescribe another drug that would interact badly.

It also allows her to see what tests other doctors have ordered on a patient, ensuring duplicate tests aren’t ordered – which saves money for the patient, Kahn said.

The funding NIU received is part of the $34 million coming to Illinois through the stimulus package to improve the quality and efficiency of health care, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office.

Besides the money going to NIU and Northwestern, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services will receive $18.8 million to develop a statewide Health Information Exchange that will allow the state’s health care providers to electronically share health information, according to Durbin’s office.

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