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Medical record database funded now but not later

HEALTHeLINK Press Conference
Daniel Robison
Despite the potential significance of HEALTHeLINK in shaping the future of medical record keeping, there were more speakers at the press conference than members of the audience.

Western New York’s electronic database of medical records, known has HEALTHeLINK has added an additional $10 million from the state to its coffers. But how it’s funded in the future is still in question. 


The grant will is meant to help the new service get off the ground. But building software that will manage and improve record keeping for all of western New York, and eventually the state and perhaps the nation, has significant upfront costs. The $30 million pledged to HEALTHeLINK’s construction so far is intended to build the spine of the service, not fund its continuing operation.

Anthony Billittier is Erie County’s commissioner of health. He says the system still needs a long term funding plan.

“The question is who pays for this ongoing? Right now, fortunately, a bunch of entities, including the hospitals and health care systems and the state and federal government have had the vision that this is worth funding. Can we sell the technology that we develop? Can we sell the services we’re building to other parts of the state and the nation?” Billittier said.

Open Source Software

The New York State Department of Health, which awarded to $10 million grant Monday. Rachel Block is a deputy commissioner with the Department. She says monetizing the new system is a work in progress, given that the software being written will eventually be accessible for free.

“It’s actually open source software. So pretty much once it’s developed other groups could take it and develop it in their own context. And we have talked quite a few states, particularly in the New England region who seem to be interested in taking a look at it and seeing if they could use some of our technical specifications to do the same things in their state,” Block said.

More than 40 jobs have been created by HEALTHeLINK so far, with more expected to be added to its rolls with the latest grant.

"Like Mashed Potatoes"

The system is still in its early development and will continue to change in perpetuity due to the shifting nature of medical knowledge, technology and the attitudes of doctors toward sharing their patients information with, potentially, many other people. But Billittier says the system is well on its way toward being relevant in the medical community

“We’re actually starting to tap in. We’re putting the gravy on the mashed potatoes, if you will, while we still make mashed potatoes. But there are enough mashed potatoes to put some gravy on now,” Billitier said.

New models of sharing medical information between medical offices over broad geographic areas will not require current privacy laws to be rewritten, says Block. Patients will be asked to release their records to the service in some cases, she says, which will contribute to the greater good.

 “If we can have better data collection around cancer cases we’ll be able to do a much better job from a public health perspective to develop not only better treatments but also prevention,” Block said. 

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.