Federally Qualified Health Centers not maximizing HIT use

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Despite a documented potential for health IT to improve the quality of care at Federally Qualified Health Centers, researchers said that such facilities might not be maximizing its use. Their findings were published this week in a provisional study in the journal BMC Health Services Research.

The researchers--from Columbia University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Southern Illinois University--determined that FQHCs that used health IT at a high capacity were "significantly more likely to have improved quality of care," which they measured in three ways: discharge summaries, use of a patient notification system for preventive or follow-up care and timely appointments for specialty care. They defined health IT as "a variety of electronic methods used to manage information about people's health and healthcare, on both the individual and group level."

For the study, the researcher analyzed data from the 2009 Commonwealth Fund National Survey of Federally Qualified Health Centers. Overall, it took into account responses from 776 hospitals.

The researchers determined that of all of the FQHCs surveyed, 50 percent could be classified as having a "low HIT capacity," while 32 percent were classified as having a high HIT capacity. Forty-three percent of all the participating health centers used electronic health records.

"Our results showed that high HIT capacity was significantly associated with increased use of reminders to patients to facilitate follow-up care for preventive services and promote continuous care, receipt of discharge summaries and timely appointment for special care," the researchers said. "These findings are promising and suggest that greater adoption and increased capacity of health information technology at FQHCs could help increase the likelihood that patients will realize improved quality of care."

The findings have additional significant value because, according to the researchers, patients who typically receive such reminders from providers tend to have higher rates of cholesterol, breast and prostate cancer screening.

A report released last month by research firm Frost & Sullivan found that a lack of incentives has slowed the technology adoption process among providers, but that a combination of government regulations and an exceeding burden on the economy is slowly altering that trend.

What's more, a study of primary care providers in 10 countries from the Commonwealth Fund published in Health Affairs in November found that despite rising adoption of healthcare technology, care coordination with specialists and hospitals lagged.

To learn more:
- read the provisional study (.pdf)

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