Online Extra: HHS grants go to health IT

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, in September will distribute $50 million in grants to prod the health care sector to integrate IT with patient treatment.

The grants will underwrite demonstrations of innovative technologies to improve patient safety and quality of care, develop interoperable systems and clinical data standards, and assess computer needs at small and rural hospitals.

'A lot of the billing is electronic and as advanced as banking, but the clinical enterprise'the core business of clinic care'hasn't changed much since Marcus Welby,' said agency director Dr. Carolyn Clancy, referring to the 1970s television program.

Evidence shows that IT systems with reminders and decision support can improve preventive care, Clancy said.

Almost two-thirds of hospitals have or are committed to computerized physician order entry in the next two years, Clancy said. Instead of writing orders for tests and prescriptions, doctors can enter them on a computer for transmission to other departments. That reduces errors by providing a clear trail for medical orders and linking with systems for automated dispensing.

But getting medical workers to use such a system is a challenge. 'At hospitals that have such a system now, many physicians don't use it because it's pretty clunky and slow.' Computer use has to be linked with the workflow, she said.

Resistance will ease as medical schools become increasingly computerized and graduates are computer-savvy. 'Doctors are on the leading edge of demanding that the changes be made,' Clancy said.

Some of this year's grants will go to compile data about the cost and benefits of health information systems, which will be used to help design policies and incentives.

'We don't understand in full detail what the true costs are, including the transition costs,' she said. For example, while getting a system up and running, a physician might for weeks be able to see only a small number of patients, but the physician's bills and staff can't wait to be paid.


About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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