HHS unit distills its IT wisdom into free booklet

The agency, part of the Health and Human Services Department, last month began
distributing a self-assessment tool for high-tech upgrades and IT needs, to 2,900
community health care providers. It also will give the workbook to any government agency.

Claude Earl Fox, HRSA administrator, said the 172-page booklet lets organizations that
don't want to hire consultants examine IT needs on their own.

"What we hoped to do with this is to give them a tool that would help them look at
the right things, ask the right questions and hopefully allow agencies to buy a better
product," Fox said.

The booklet was designed so that any government or public organization could use it, he
said, but it is not intended to specify exactly what new technology is needed. Instead it
will help IT officials get a better understanding of their current resources and plan
step-by-step upgrades, Fox said.

The booklet includes advice on what processes work when planning IT upgrades and charts
that give IT officials a way to catalog resources.

Fox said the IT assessment guide was created by workgroups throughout the agency.
Experts in IT-related fields spent months getting the guide into its final form, Fox said.
The groups consolidated ideas from IT reference books and guides and condensed them, along
with personal experiences, into the guide.

"What I like about it is that it is not something that can only be used in one
setting," Fox said.

Almost every system an agency might need is covered in the book. From billing systems
to employee record-keeping systems, the guide gives suggestions about what questions
should be asked before buying hardware or software:

The guide also advises on topics such as how to deal with a pushy IT vendor and what to
look for when hiring a consultant. For upgrades, charts help an agency administrator
collect relevant information to prepare a request for proposals.

Fox said many groups that work with HRSA serve communities such as the homeless or
rural outlying areas. Most of those groups can't afford expensive consultants and
especially can't afford to make a mistake by buying inadequate systems, he said.

Many smaller agencies need a tool to help examine IT needs as budgets get smaller but
workloads rise, Fox said.

"People go in and buy technology, and if they don't do a good job they will have
spent a fair amount of money for something that not only does not improve their operation,
but might also impair it," Fox said.

"There is a real benefit to appropriate technology," he said. "Without
question there is an increasing reliance on technology, and I think there will be more
dollars spent."

For more information about HRSA's IT planning guide, visit http://hrsa.dhhs.gov.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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