AHRQ Surveys Health IT

The agency's report analyzes studies that have examined the quality impact of health IT as well as the costs and organizational changes needed to implement health IT systems.

An overview of the scientific studies published in the last few years concludes that large health care institutions have relatively successfully incorporated health IT, while small physician offices continue to lag.

The AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, recently released a report, here in PDF form, acknowledging that while health information technology has been shown to improve quality of care for patients, most health care providers need more information about how to implement these technologies successfully.

The report is an analysis 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.

It reviews scientific data about the implementation of health IT to date, as documented in studies published since 2003.

An article summarizing the report will be published in the May 16 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The report was prepared by the RAND Corporations Southern California Evidence-based Practice Center, one of 13 evidence-based practice centers supported by AHRQ.

Another study released last year by a separate group of RAND researchers estimated that wide adoption of electronic medical records and other health IT could save more than $81 billion annually and improve the quality of care.

The authors conclude that scientific reviews have shown significant improvements in the quality of health care utilizing HIT (health IT) systems.

However, these successes have occurred primarily within large health care systems that created their own health IT systems and devoted substantial commitment and resources to these efforts.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Agency for Healthcare Research and Qualitys interactive online tool that provides health care information.

"HIT has the potential to enable a dramatic transformation in the delivery of health care, making it safer, more effective, and more efficient," the report argues.

"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," it concludes.

Large health care organizations and health plans have been leaders in health IT. The report points out that, by contrast, the smaller medical practices and hospitals that constitute the majority of the nations health care providers have limited technological expertise and must depend on the purchase of commercial systems.

Data about health IT implementation in these settings has been very limited. As a result, many health care providers have not had the information they need to calculate the impact of health IT implementation on their organizations.

"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," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.

AHRQs health IT initiative, which is currently under way, is designed to help generate and share more of this kind of information.

The $166 million initiative includes more than 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 AHRQ initiative was first launched in September 2004; most projects have three-year duration, so the first results should be yielded in the next year or two.

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