HHS awards contract to measure health IT use

The Health and Human Services Department today awarded a contract to the George Washington University and the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Institute for Health Policy to determine how many physicians and hospitals have implemented electronic medical records.

The initiative aims to better characterize and provide a baseline of the state of electronic health record adoption and determine the effectiveness of policies designed to accelerate their usage and interoperability, said David Brailer, national coordinator for health IT at HHS

Studies have found that health IT usage is low among physicians, hospitals and other health care providers. No single approach, however, exists to determine the percentage of providers using electronic health records. Studies vary by methodology and by type and size of provider.

The first of five annual reports will be published in fall 2006 and serve as a baseline. It will focus on adoption of electronic health records in physician practices and outpatient physician offices in hospitals. The reports will be designed to serve as a long-term indicator of progress toward widespread health IT adoption, as well as progress on the associated policy drivers and barriers to achieving this goal.

Sara Rosenbaum, chairwoman of the health policy department at George Washington University, and David Blumenthal, director of the health policy institute at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of medicine and health policy at Harvard Medical School, will lead the initiative. They will name a 15-member panel of experts to help analyze all other surveys on the subject and assimilate them into an overall picture of what the results mean.

Brailer compared the approach to that of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which prepares an overall economic report by looking at dozens of indicators to glean information about the direction of the economy.

'This is an expert panel whose job is not to influence health IT but to measure objectively if initiatives have an impact and how much, such as what share of physicians have electronic health records in regular use,' Brailer said in a tele-briefing with reporters. The group will develop guidance for more organized surveys in the future, such as to measure adoption in multiple settings of care across diverse populations

The contract is for one year with options to renew it as necessary. The value of the contract is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Brailer would not reveal the exact amount.

Last week, HHS awarded contracts to develop processes for certification of electronic health records and interoperability standards, and to address variations in privacy and security practices.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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