June 14, 2005 – Gregory Calliste, chief executive officer at the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital, said Tuesday the eHealth initiative could soon become a reality in the Virgin Islands, bringing better healthcare through better use of information technology.
"The enthusiasm and the need are here," he said.
If numbers translate into enthusiasm, Calliste is right. There were times during the morning when the auditorium at Hovensa, site of a symposium on the eHealth initiative, could not hold all the people wanting to get inside to listen.
Dr. Cora Christian, who organized the event, said attendance was excellent. Chairs had been set up for 170 attendees, but more than 180 people attended, mostly doctors, nurses and people involved in health administration.
Rodney Miller, CEO of Schneider Regional Medical Center, also attended. He said the symposium offered great information and added, "We at Schneider pride ourselves on having one of the best computer systems in the world. We just need to link it up."
Several presenters emphasized that the V.I. health care systems were already relatively advanced technologically, but just had to work on networking so vital information about patients would be just a computer screen away from doctors.
This is the gap that COMTek is offering to fill. Joseph Fergus, president of COMTek, said his company would give the eHealth program a "robust, reliable and secure" Internet platform.
"You can't afford for your communications to go down merely because it rains," he said. Fergus, who graduated from Central High School and now runs the company, has continued involvement with community and business projects in the islands.(See "Students Get Hands-On with State of the Art Technology").
Another speaker at the symposium on the technical side was Charlie Jarvis, director of outreach for NextGen, an electronic medical records system. It is in operation in Seattle and Cleveland.
In Seattle, about 625,000 patients, or about 60 percent of the people served by hospitals in the area, are entered into the system. The Cleveland system has about 1.2 million people involved.
Starting the system in Cleveland cost about $1 million, according to Andrew Davidson, a consultant involved with NextGen.
Jarvis said he and Christian had been involved in meetings in Washington concerning possible federal funds for upgrading the hospitals' records systems. "The feds like the idea. You will be hearing more about this in the near future," he said.
Many politicians were also in the crowded room.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards gave opening remarks. He said that since he took over, much of the paperwork in his department has been eliminated in favor of computer solutions. He said this has increased worker output and customer satisfaction. He believes the same could be done in health care, he said.
Health Commissioner Darlene Carty encouraged participants: "Let's do something different; let's do eHealth. Maybe someday we will even do eGovernment."
Kenneth Mapp, Public Finance Authority executive director, told the audience that the PFA has been a COMTek customer since 2003, and everyone is pleased with that relationship. He said a lot of material once mailed out is now posted on the Internet, "and we have saved a lot of money."
Several senators also attended the meeting. Sen. Craig Barshinger said he thought the system offered some wonderful opportunities for better health care but wondered whether there was the possibility of an "explosion of malpractice suits" if certain lawyers had access to the information.
Other audience members questioned exactly how patient privacy rights would be maintained.
Davidson said the technology was there to block just about anything, but it was up to the health institution when it set policy to determine what it wanted blocked and how to get permission from patients to enter their medical records into the system.
Christian gave a presentation on Medem, a personal health record. This is a free system that allows people to keep track of their own medical records online. It can be accessed at www.medem.com/.
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