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National Health IT Week Roundup!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Did you know that last week was National Health IT Week?  This occasion nearly flew below our radar until Penny Mudd, the Partnership’s Health Information Technology Fellow from Health Career Connection brought it to our attention.  Penny is assisting us on a number of our IT projects, including developing an online resource directory for our health center membership.

According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Information Technology, Health Information Technology, better known as “HIT” makes it “possible for health care providers to better manage patient care through secure use and sharing of health information.”  Keeping this in mind, one could imagine how prominent HIT has become in discussions and initiatives for improving health care delivery, especially in the community health center world.  For example, in partnership with the California Health Care Foundation and the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), our health centers are participating in a statewide project called Aligning Quality Improvement in California Clinics for Meaningful Use (AQICC).  The goal of AQICC is to help clinics and health centers prepare for the meaningful use of electronic health records to improve clinical outcomes and operational efficiencies in order to improve the health outcomes of patients and communities throughout California. 

As advocates, designated weeks such as National Health Center Week, or in this case National Health IT Week provide great opportunities for us to share the work that we’re doing (as well as the reasons we’re doing it) with others.  I’m so glad Penny reminded us to mark this occasion.  Here is her roundup of last week’s events:

The 6th Annual National Health IT Week , Sept. 12 -16,   provided  a forum  for 150 public and private health care organizations to come together under one umbrella to raise awareness of the improved health care delivery benefits  and cost savings afforded by use of health IT.    The AMA (American Medical Association) data shows that providers have adopted Meaningful Use compliant Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems at adoption rates that range from 80.2% in Minnesota to 38.1% in the more rural Kentucky. Federal incentives have helped to overcome initial provider resistance.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius kicked off National Health IT Week with the first-ever HHS Consumer Health IT Summit. One of the main events was the launch of an Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), an HHS agency, program to support greater consumer engagement in their own health via information technology use of http://healthcare.gov, a website designed to assist consumers with questions about health care reform and insurance coverage.  This dovetails with the current Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) program – “Care about Your Care” http://careaboutyourcare.org/  –  to raise awareness about what patients can do to get better health care. RWJF has partnered with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and 20 other healthcare organizations to mount this effort.

A sample of recent studies that focus on health care delivery benefits via health information technology  (HIT) includes a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supporting the premise that federal policies encouraging the Meaningful Use of electronic healthcare records improves outcomes for diabetes patients.  A  >30% improvement on standard measurements was recorded as opposed to the same measurements in clinics using paper records.  In another example, the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has finally finished a study of their demonstration project where a disease- management –via- telemedicine product led to lower mortality rates and savings up to $550 per patient per quarter for Medicare patients with various chronic conditions.  Another HIT phenomenon worth paying careful attention to is the explosion of smart phone and iPad use among clinical staff.  Add to that the smart phone’s promise to increase “touches” – the number of contacts between a patient and their healthcare provider - to provide health education and self-monitoring tools. iPhone microphones have already been adapted to listen to a patient’s heartbeat! That’s just the beginning of how smart phones will be used for medical interventions.

HHS, having made consumer empowerment a cornerstone of its health IT policy also announced new proposed rules that would expand the rights of patients to access their health information (records).  The proposed rules would amend the patient privacy provisions of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to make a patient an authorized person under Federal law, so  patients could  obtain test result reports directly from labs. Labs covered by HIPAA would provide information, upon request, directly to patients or their personal representatives. 

Community Health Partnership’s increased use of HIT to extend services to underserved populations cannot be separated from the swirl of legislation and market forces that surround healthcare in 2011. Technological advances will continue to outpace the legislation needed to mitigate any negative impacts they might have. The venture capital community will continue to make bets that dramatic (i.e.  effective and widely accepted) breakthroughs in health care technology are possible. Due to the recession, many middle class citizens have joined the traditionally underserved in the limbo of having no private coverage while courts debate the constitutionality of federal health care reform law.

In the middle of these powerful and sometimes opposing forces, the Partnership has affirmed their commitment to medically underserved communities with efforts that are also consistent with the most recent national focus on HIT seen during National Health IT Week.  Community Health Partnership’s plan to boost support to its clinics with clinical data analysis and HIT services to support capacity expansion is one such story. So is our increased training support to help clinics attain Patient Centered Medical Home accreditation and assist with meeting Meaningful Use Stage 1 criteria to insure the clinics maintain their status as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC).

Watch this space for further developments.