The federal government is sending the Iowa Department of Public Health nearly $8.4 million over the next four years to continue work on a plan to share medical records. Health Department director, Tom Newton, says the money will help them move ahead with the work of the electronic health information advisory committee created by the legislature in 2008.

He says they will use the money to plan and begin to implement a system where multiple providers can share health information electronically. Newton says the idea is to pull all the different medical providers together so they can share in one system.

Newton says independent providers have the ability to share records in their system, but the problem comes when you go from one health system to another to get your health care.

“Often times those are technical problems, sometimes they’re legal problems as to what level of detail they are willing to share, sometimes it’s competitive problems, you know, patients are customers,” Newton explains. Newton says the eventual goal is to create a system that addresses all the problems, and shows the health providers the benefits to the patients in sharing their health records.

According to Newton, the sharing of records across health systems improves the quality of care, and has the potential to decrease the cost of health care. The money from the stimulus package is for four years, and Newton says that likely won’t be enough to complete the system.

Newton says the federal government has identified some possible incentives for providers through Medicare and Medicaid and that extends out beyond 2014. He guesses that it will take five to 10 years to get the system moving forward.

Newton says they will be looking for other sources of money to eventually finish the “e-Health project.” You can find out more information on the project through the Department of Public Health’s website .