AHRQ director discusses health IT, patient care

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Jon White, MD, director of health IT for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the United States' lead agency for research on healthcare quality, costs, outcomes and safety, presented an e-seminar on March 6 that focused on AHRQ's role in helping organizations use health IT to improve patient care.

During the presentation, White addressed lessons that the AHRQ has learned from state government and regional public pilot projects using health IT to support health quality; how clinical decision support and other key health IT tools can improve patient-centered care and bolster patient safety; and management essentials on health IT tools and standards for measuring healthcare quality.

“You can’t improve healthcare if you don’t measure it,” White said. “Unless you are specific about what you must improve, you won’t go anywhere.”

The AHRQ’s mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare for all Americans, White said. He added that as part of that mission, the agency asks the question “How does health IT enable better healthcare?”

Since 2004, the agency has had a long term priority of supporting more than 200 projects and demonstrations, such as prototypes to secure statewide information networks, to further its mission in virtually every state. However, White said that special attention needs to be given to best practices that can improve the quality of care in rural, small community, safety net and community health center care settings. “We want to improve healthcare for all Americans,” he said. “Not just those with the best access.”

The agency is also working on projects that work toward enabling patient-centered care through health IT. For example, at Northwestern University, a project is underway that uses IT to develop and test a multimedia program to help patients understand the importance of both giving and receiving accurate information about medications.

White said that within the role of the health IT enterprise, information governance is essential to value-driven healthcare in order to keep consumer’s needs front and center. “Health IT is not a silver bullet; it is a means to an end,” he said.

Looking to the future, the program will emphasize regional collaborations as well as linkage with existing and future initiatives for payment or quality; and the development of measures that are valid, reliable, clear and understood by all stakeholders.

“We have to see the forest but we also have to see the trees,” White said. “We must have health IT to improve the quality and delivery of care and we need to have our information systems to drive these advances.”