HHS secretary speaks to power of healthcare IT in rural communities

By Bernie Monegain
09:06 AM

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report Thursday on how information technology can improve healthcare for Americans living in rural communities.

The report examines how the Columbia Basin Health Association in Othello, Wash., uses IT to improve healthcare quality and patient safety as well as promote care coordination and continuity.

"The Columbia Basin Health Association is just one place in America where health information technology and electronic health records have helped ensure patients get better care," said Sebelius. "Health information technology can reduce paperwork, make care more efficient and let doctors spend more time practicing medicine and less time filling out forms."

The CBHA provides 25,000 patients with access to a variety of medical, dental, prescription and other services at four sites and was one of the first health centers in the United States to fully transition from paper-based charts to an electronic health record system.

In response to the growing prevalence of diabetes in rural communities, the CBHA used its EHR system to track 1,302 diabetic patients, monitoring whether they received recommended exams and providing feedback to healthcare providers on their performance.

In January 2008, 31 percent of patients at the CBHA had received a foot exam and 37 percent had received an eye exam during the previous year. By June 2008, 86 percent of patients had received a foot exam and 63 percent had received an eye exam over the previous year.

According to the report, since the CBHA's implementation of EHRs, the community health center has consistently ranked above the 95th percentile nationally in total medical and dental team productivity.

Approximately 65 million Americans live in communities with shortages of primary care providers and nearly 50 million live in rural areas. Sebelius said health information technology, and specifically EHRs, can improve care for patients and assist in clinical decision-making and the use of evidence-based guidelines. EHRs can also decrease administrative hassle, increasing workplace satisfaction and productivity.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act encourages greater use of health information technology through significant new investments, Sebelius said. Through incentive payments to providers and hospitals, she said, the ARRA will accelerate the adoption of health information technology and creation of an interoperable, nationwide network, and health insurance reform will build on this investment by simplifying and streamlining administrative procedures, investing in telehealth and improving the quality of healthcare.

Top Story

EHR contract with Epic

UI Health in Chicago EHR project bidding case will now go to the state ethics board for review. Photo via UI Health