Researchers say New York could be national model for healthcare IT

By Bernie Monegain
11:00 AM
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Health information technology programs implemented in New York could serve as models for new federal initiatives, according to Weill Cornell Medical College researchers.

"Programs such as these could transform the way healthcare is delivered nationally and locally," said senior author Rainu Kaushal, MD, chief of the Division of Quality and Clinical Informatics and associate professor of pediatrics, public health and medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"Ideally, a doctor treating a patient will have access to the patient's entire medical history at the point of care," said lead researcher Lisa Kern, MD, assistant professor of public health and medicine and the Nanette Laitman Clinical Scholar in Public Health-Clinical Evaluation at Weill Cornell Medical College. "For example, I'm better able to avoid an adverse drug event if I know what the patient's cardiologist prescribed the patient yesterday."

The findings of the study, funded by The Commonwealth Fund, were published in the March 10 issue of Health Affairs, which focused on healthcare information technology. Co-authors included Yolanda Barron, Erika L. Abramson, MD, and Vaishali Patel, all of Weill Cornell Medical College.

Kaushal and Kern, who direct HITEC (Health Information Technology Evaluation Collaborative), a multi-institutional academic collaboration formed to evaluate New York's health IT initiatives, represented the state at a Health Affairs briefing Tuesday in Washinton D.C.

The federal government has designated  $19 billion of the $787 billion economic stimulus package for healthcare information technology. New York, meanwhile, has allocated about $250 million of state money for healthcare information technology – specifically, electronic health records that can connect to other IT systems through the statewide health information exchange network.

The Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers Capital Grant Program (HEAL NY) is the largest state-based investment of its kind, surpassing the next largest state program by a factor of eight, according to the researchers. Currently $160 million in HEAL NY funds have been granted and $230 million in private sector dollars have been committed to healthcare IT infrastructure, bringing New York's investment to $390 million.

The study's authors conducted a survey of the 26 grantees that were funded under the first phase of HEAL NY, starting in 2005. Each grantee consisted of a consortium of healthcare institutions in a given community. The grantees had received a total of $53 million for this phase of the project. The authors also assessed the implications of New York's health IT strategy on the grantees' approach and progress.

"Over the past two years, the grantees have been involved in developing and implementing statewide policy solutions, technological building blocks and clinical capacity as part of New York's health IT infrastructure," said Lori M. Evans, deputy commissioner of the New York State Department of Health's Office of Health Information Technology Transformation, Evans is responsible for leading New York's health IT strategy.

"I think this has made a big difference in the progress and success of our grantees – innovating from the bottom up and following statewide policies, standards and technical specifications from the top down," she said.

"Two years into the program, 100 percent of grantees were still in existence and functioning and all were still implementing interoperable health IT systems," said Kern. This is in contrast to national trends, where 25 percent of regional health information organizations (RHIOs) nationwide do not survive their first year.

Eighty-five percent of the communities studied were still actively pursuing health information exchange, and more than one-third met the formal criteria for a regional health information organization, an information-technology model that connects hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies and laboratories.

One-third of the grantees had actual users for their systems.