‘Roadmap’ points Colorado in direction of health care equity, improved data sharing

Updated plan focuses on telehealth in light of pandemic

By: - December 6, 2021 5:00 am

A caregiver conducts a health exam with a her patient. (Getty Images)

New state objectives are in place to expand the digital tools and technologies that support Colorado health care services. 

The state’s Office of eHealth Innovation released this week a refreshed Colorado Health Information Technology Roadmap, a framework for leveraging technology to address gaps in the state’s health care systems.

“We’ve taken a really critical look at health care in Colorado and accessibility. What the (roadmap) is, is part of a broader effort to save people money on health care,” Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera told Colorado Newsline.

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The roadmap was updated from its 2019 version and attempts to address three overarching goals: supporting better data sharing infrastructure; increasing access to health care, either remotely or in-person, through coordinated systems; and improving health equity. It was a collaborative effort between over 50 individuals and organizations across the state.

Success would be patients finding the whole-patient care they need with doctors who are equipped to access shared clinical data. 

For example, a more comprehensive health care IT system that allows doctors to access patient records from previous providers would prevent duplicate testing and medical visits. That saves both time and money, and it removes the burden of the patient having to recall health information details.

“We want to make sure that on the ground, doctors can access records and test results that anybody has had, if they’ve had another lab test or doctor’s visit or emergency room visit in any part of the state,” Primavera said. “It makes it equitable in that the doctor will have the right information at the right time to serve the patient.”

But connecting to the state’s health information exchanges can be a challenge in rural communities. One study from the Colorado Rural Health Center found that it could cost a facility $162,000 to implement an electronic medical record system with an additional $85,000 for first-year maintenance costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted specific issues for the office to focus on. One analysis referenced in the roadmap found that the use of telemedicine decreased as the patient’s age increased, signaling that the people who were most affected by the pandemic could have been at a disadvantage for care. That same analysis found that Black and Asian people had lower rates of telemedicine adoption than white people. 

“One of the things we’ve learned through the pandemic is there has really been a light shone on the people who are the haves and the people who are the have nots,” Primavera said. “One of the most important things that this roadmap will do is take a real look at health equity and address the disparities in the health care system that have been spotlighted in the last 20 months.”

A clinical doctor reviews test results with a patient at the hospital. (Tom Werner/Getty Images)

Total cost not yet clear

Advanced health IT can have a significant impact on efforts like reaching the unvaccinated population. The eHealth office has been able to use new health IT investments since late summer to receive data about which Medicaid patients aren’t yet vaccinated against COVID-19, allowing for targeted outreach to connect them to a provider. The state receives a list of patients from a technology partner that has about 90% to 95% accuracy. State-funded data scientists are able to shore up those numbers to nearly 100% accuracy. 

That is 1 of 30 telehealth projects that has been completed during the pandemic, according to Primavera.

“Medicaid had their own internal processes, but the kind of investments through the roadmap and existing technology, they were more accurately able to pinpoint that. It’s exciting to see it go from the prior roadmap strategy to actual project, and it’s rewarding to see it being leveraged to help people that way,” said Carrie Paykoc, the director of the Office of eHealth Innovation. She said the same concept could be applied to address other state health needs. 

Since the 2021 roadmap outlines goals and potential best practices, rather than specific project proposals, the total price tag to achieve the three overarching goals is not yet clear. Better estimates could come out early next year.

The roadmap outlines potential funding opportunities for health IT infrastructure, such as money from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the American Rescue Plan Act and the recently passed infrastructure bill. 

Colorado has seen nearly $200 million over the last decade for health IT funds, Paykoc said. 

“It’s not cheap, but looking at what these things will cost in the near-term and then ongoing is important,” she said.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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