Improving Health Information: Georgia Tech To Support Deployment of Electronic Health Records

Improving Health InformationThe Georgia Institute of Technology is part of a new statewide effort aimed at facilitating the adoption of secure and confidential electronic health record systems by primary-care providers – especially those that reach underserved portions of the state’s population.  The goal of the effort is to apply a community-oriented approach to outreach, education and technical assistance facilitating the adoption and “meaningful use” of the electronic health records.

The work is part of a $19.5 million federally-funded project – headed by the Morehouse School of Medicine’s National Center for Primary Care (NCPC) – to help primary-care providers in smaller practices adopt comprehensive electronic health record (EHR) systems.  The project is being coordinated by the Georgia Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center (GA-HITREC).

Georgia Tech is also helping establish a group purchasing program that health care providers can use to more simply and easily obtain their EHR software.

“The ultimate goal is higher quality, more cost-effective health care for Georgia,” said Stephen Fleming, a Georgia Tech vice president and executive director of its Enterprise Innovation Institute, which will provide the services.  “This will not only benefit individual citizens of the state directly, but will also make Georgia more attractive to companies of all sizes because health care costs are often the second-largest expense, after payroll, for business and industry across the board.”

The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) will receive approximately $2.8 million for its contributions to the project.

The GA-HITREC project will help as many as 5,200 primary-care providers in smaller practices select electronic health record systems, properly install the software and implement new workflow processes that achieve meaningful use of the technology.  Using its existing statewide network of regional technical assistance offices, Georgia Tech will be among several organizations providing direct support to providers as they adopt the technology.

“The effort will include an assessment tool to help determine what each provider practice needs to do to achieve meaningful use as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  This would include education and training, changes in clinical and administrative processes, addressing computer hardware and facility issues, and providing connectivity to emerging health information exchanges,” explained Steve Rushing, director of Georgia Tech’s health@ei2 program.  “Staff from the Enterprise Innovation Institute will conduct one-on-one and group presentations to explain electronic health records, assist in selecting EHR products and conduct follow-up to ensure that new systems are meeting the mandated criteria.”

Some $20 billion in funding through the “Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act” (HITECH) will support similar programs nationwide to encourage the deployment of interconnected electronic health records.  Funding for the program is from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

“The widespread adoption and meaningful use of EHRs can significantly impact the gaps in disparities among our nation’s communities,” said Dr. Dominic Mack, director of GA-HITREC and deputy director of the National Center for Primary Care.  “A major goal of the federal initiatives is to put underserved communities on an equal playing field when it comes to health information technology (HIT).  I think with valuable partners such as Georgia Tech, we are on the right path.”

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) was established by executive order in 2004 with the goal of laying the policy and standards groundwork for such a nationwide health records system.  The objectives are to cut $10 billion per year from the government’s health care costs, and to generate additional savings through improvements in quality of care and care coordination, and through reductions in medical errors and duplicative care

Across the United States and in Georgia, use of comprehensive electronic health records systems is currently limited, with less than 10 percent of hospitals and doctors using networked systems able to provide meaningful support for higher quality care.  Over the coming decade, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget expects that initiatives such as the Morehouse program will boost usage of the systems to 90 percent for doctors and 70 percent for hospitals.

“A comprehensive electronic health records system is important for the long-term management of chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease,” said Mark Braunstein, assistant director of the Health Systems Institute, a program operated jointly by Georgia Tech and Emory University.  “As much as 75 percent of U.S. health care dollars now pay for this type of care, and without adoption of technology for more coordination of care, that cost will continue to grow as the population ages.”

Care for chronic diseases takes place over years, is often provided by many different sources and – ultimately – the outcome depends heavily on patient behavior.

“We need health information infrastructure that will allow every doctor to know what other providers are doing to efficiently and effectively care for a patient with chronic disease,” Braunstein explained.  “If most physicians are still using paper records, this will be virtually impossible.”

By adopting electronic records capable of so-called “meaningful use,” the initiative will also help doctors stay current with new information on the best and most cost-effective methods.

“With the rapid advances in medical knowledge, it is very difficult for physicians – particularly rural primary-care physicians who must treat virtually all medical problems in their communities – to keep up,” Braunstein noted.  “Helping every physician successfully adopt technology that can help them stay current is a top priority.”

In a study released earlier this year, EI2 also documented that the state’s health information technology industry includes more than 100 companies and employs approximately 10,000 people.  Investments in electronic health record systems will therefore have an additional economic development benefit beyond helping control health care costs.

“Georgia businesses stand to benefit substantially from this national investment in health information infrastructure,” Fleming noted.

CAPTION: Electronic health record systems improve access to patient information, such as test results.  Here, Dr. Mark Cohen, the Chief of Quality, Informatics and Information Technology for The Piedmont Heart Institute, discusses the results of an electrocardiogram with Michelle McElwee.

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