Health IT grabs the attention of state governors

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Health IT interest is growing steadily within state governments and state-backed health IT projects are high on the radar for proposed agendas, according to a report from Input, a government business research company.

To date, 27 percent of governors, up 14 percent from 2007, who delivered speeches reflecting the state of affairs within the respective state, mentioned health IT, touting efficiency, patient safety and quality of care as benefits to be gained, the firm said.

The firm’s analysis covered IT priorities as reflected in all governors’ state progress reports delivered in 2008 so far.

Support for EHRs, e-prescribing and interoperable data banks is increasing despite faltering state economies and strapped budgets. Governors may be pushing harder for health IT projects because of the belt-tightening rather than in spite of it, said report author Timothy Brett, Input’s senior manager of state and local information services, according to Government Health IT.

Brett said that economic downturn drives the need for efficiency and the desire to cut down on waste, so governors have looked to technology initiatives as cost-effective alternatives.

For example, Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont advocated helping physicians acquire EMR systems, and expressed hope that every physician in the state would use an EMR by the end of 2010. Also, Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington promoted an online pharmacy database that would link physicians and pharmacists, thereby reducing the likelihood of medication errors.

Government Health IT reported that some states have gained momentum with health IT (HIT) planning, while others lag much further behind. Minnesota has allotted $18.5 million for HIT projects in its 2008-2009 budget, and Missouri reserved $15 million for projects, including EHR expansion and data analysis for chronic-care patients. On the other hand, Arizona’s budget includes only $274,900 for HIT funding – all for EMR implementation at the Arizona State Hospital, the report said.

Rapidly rising Medicaid costs will likely facilitate more IT spending, Brett said, which could be fueled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Medicaid Transformation grants it has made to state agencies in the last year.