Report: Many healthcare providers need expertise in health IT

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Health IT adoption has been widely shown to greatly benefit patient care, but one essential ingredient that is missing is healthcare providers with expertise in implementing the technologies, according to a report released this week by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) called “Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology.”

The report is a synthesis of studies that have examined the quality impact of health IT as well as the costs and organizational changes needed to implement health IT systems. This report reviews information documented in studies published through 2003, though makes no projections about future costs.

According to the report’s authors, most health IT successes have come from large healthcare systems that have custom-built their own approach and follow through on the initiatives with resources. AHRQ’s effort has been to gather information and adopt it for use by common healthcare settings such as physicians’ offices and hospitals.

“HIT has the potential to enable a dramatic transformation in the delivery of healthcare, making it safer, more effective, and more efficient,” the report concludes.  “However, widespread implementation of HIT has been limited by a lack of generalizable knowledge about what types of HIT and implementation methods will improve care and manage costs for specific health organizations.”

The report points out that smaller medical practices and hospitals have limited technological expertise and must depend on the purchase of commercial systems. Making matters more difficult, data about health IT implementation in these settings have been very limited.

A predominant portion of healthcare providers in America have not had the information they need to calculate the impact of health IT implementation on their organizations, the report concludes.

“Healthcare providers need reliable information that tells them what they can expect when they implement health IT systems,” said Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, director, AHRQ. “Leading institutions in health IT have shown that these systems can produce improved quality and patient safety. But smaller practices and hospitals need to know how these improvements can be achieved in settings like theirs, using the kinds of commercial systems they are likely to employ. AHRQ’s health IT initiative is designed to generate and share the kind of information providers need,” Clancy added.
AHRQ is pushing $166 million towards over 100 projects where health IT systems are being implemented, with an emphasis on systems in community-based health care settings, using commercially available systems. The point is to then share the experiences of typical providers in implementing health IT systems.

“AHRQ’s initiative is a real-world laboratory, showing how health IT can be used successfully in typical healthcare settings,” said Clancy. “The experiences of our grantees will be shared broadly to help all healthcare providers more successfully adopt health IT.”

Findings from the AHRQ projects are available through the AHRQ National Resource Center for Health Information Technology. Visit