January 26, 2008 in Idaho

Health-care delivery system changing

Betsy Z. Russell The Spokesman-Review

BOISE – Idaho is poised to “transform” its health-care delivery system through the proposed new Idaho Health Data Exchange, according to the state’s Health and Welfare chief.

Dick Armstrong, director of the state Department of Health and Welfare, said lawmakers put the wheels in motion for the program with legislation in 2006, and a former North Idaho state senator has been leading the way.

“Since mid-2006, under the leadership of former Sen. Richard Compton, a committed group of Idaho health-care professionals has crafted an exciting model that will transform the health-care delivery system in Idaho,” Armstrong told lawmakers this week. The system, to be phased in over five years and funded mainly by hospitals and health-care providers, would allow a patient’s health data to be shared electronically between providers.

“The exchange will allow medical professionals to electronically move patient information between various health-care providers, and it will make that information available at the point of care,” Armstrong said. “There are a number of advantages to this, to the Idaho citizens. Certainly to the emergency room physician, where the patient is not providing complete information, this will bring to his fingertips all of the information that is available with other health-care providers, pharmacy and other hospitals within Idaho.”

For Health and Welfare, it could improve Medicaid compliance, he said, including better management of clinical consistency and overuse of emergency rooms.

The network wouldn’t create a central database, Armstrong said. Instead, he said, it’s like “a switch that allows the data to be pulled real-time from a number of sources.”

The first phase of the exchange would start with three hospitals and 100 physicians. While the state would provide the startup funding – and Gov. Butch Otter supports the proposal – ongoing funding would come from providers. Already, St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s hospitals in Boise, Blue Cross, Regence Blue Shield and Kootenai Medical Center have made commitments to the project, Armstrong said.

These halls have a history

Here’s another reminder that the building where the Idaho Legislature is holding its session this year – while the state Capitol’s being renovated – had a long prior history as a county courthouse. Peter Morrill, general manager of Idaho Public Television, came before the joint budget committee in its new digs, and earned a few “awws” with this comment: “This room actually holds some special memory for me. Thirteen years ago, my wife and I adopted our daughter here in this room. … I hope the adoption of my budget this year goes as well as the adoption of my daughter 13 years ago.”

Libraries going strong in Internet age

State Librarian Ann Joslin says, “Idaho’s libraries are more relevant than ever.” Starting out her budget presentation to lawmakers, Joslin noted that the most likely age group to use libraries is 18- to-30-year-olds, and young families are the most frequent users. “Instead of the Internet making libraries less relevant, Internet use seems to create an information hunger that libraries and librarians help satisfy,” she said.

Minnick racks up campaign cash

Democratic congressional candidate Walt Minnick says he’ll end the quarter with more than $400,000 in campaign contributions in 2007 – even though he just announced and started his campaign on Nov. 14. That tally includes $100,000 of his own funds and leaves him at the end of the finance period Dec. 31 with more than $310,000 cash on hand in his campaign fund.

Minnick, who’s in a three-way Democratic race against Larry Grant and Rand Lewis for the chance to challenge 1st District GOP Rep. Bill Sali, said his fundraising should set a record for first-quarter fundraising by a Democratic congressional challenger. The quarterly campaign finance reports are due to the Federal Election Commission Jan. 31. Sali is being challenged in the GOP primary by Iraq veteran Matt Salisbury.

‘It supports a very strong program’

When Sen. Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls, quizzed North Idaho College President Priscilla Bell as to why the college spends 3 percent of its budget on athletics, she had a ready answer.

“I’m a very strong proponent of intercollegiate athletics,” she said. “I think it is an excellent vehicle for us to recruit students to the college who would otherwise not go to college.” Athletics also help retain those students, she said. “We have good, winning teams … but they’re students first, and their academic performance is stellar.”

Students involved in athletics also learn teamwork, collaboration and problem-solving, Bell said, adding, “Is 3 percent the right amount? I don’t know – it supports a very strong program at North Idaho College.” Full-time students each pay a $42 fee per semester to support athletics.

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