HHS awards $139 million for health information technology

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Helping the nation further attain its goal of nationwide electronic health recorders, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) this week announced $139 million in grants and contracts to promote the use of health information technology.

According to AHRQ, the awards will provide insight into how best to use health information technologies to improve patient safety by reducing medication errors; increase the use of shared health information between providers, laboratories, pharmacies and patients; help to insure safer patient transitions between healthcare settings, including hospitals, doctors' offices, and nursing homes; and reduce duplicative and unnecessary testing.

In addition, health information technology has the potential to produce savings of up to 10 percent of the country's total annual spending on healthcare, according to AHRQ.

"These grants will provide the momentum needed to move forward with the creation of a safer U.S. healthcare system based on proven health information technologies, especially in the rural and small communities throughout America where the need is so great," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD. "Healthcare systems across the country can learn from our grantees' experiences and follow their lead."

The $139 million will be used in the following ways:

  • Promoting access to HIT-More than 100 grants to communities, hospitals, providers, and healthcare systems to help in all phases of the development and use of health information technology. The grants are spread across 38 states, with a special focus on small and rural hospitals and communities. First-year funding is $41 million and will total nearly $96 million over three years.

  • Developing statewide and regional networks-Five-year contracts to five states or their designees to help them develop statewide networks that are secure, ensure privacy of health information, and make an individuals' health information more available to healthcare providers. The five states are Colorado, Indiana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah. Participants include major purchasers of healthcare, public and private payers, hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, home healthcare providers, and long-term care providers. First-year funding is $1 million for each state and will total $25 million over the course of the contracts.
  • Encouraging adoption of HIT by sharing knowledge-The creation of the National Health Information Technology Resource Center (NORC) to aid grantees and other federal partners by providing technical assistance, provide a focus for collaboration, serve as a repository for best practices, and disseminate needed tools to help providers explore the adoption and use of health information technology to improve patient safety and quality of care. The two-year contract, renewable for up to three years, was awarded to NORC, a national organization for research at the University of Chicago. First-year funding is $4 million, with an estimated value of $18.5 million over the course of the contract.

"I view these awards as a building block to advance the adoption of electronic health records," said David J. Brailer, MD, PhD, national coordinator for Health Information Technology. "These projects will encourage real-world laboratories for innovation and provide models for other organizations as we move forward in developing an electronic health record."