From the Director
Research Activities, January 2011, No. 365
Health information technology (IT) forms the backbone of modern health care by providing clinicians with information when and where they need it, so patients can get the right care at the right time. Drug-alert systems, electronic health records (EHRs), telemedicine, and other health IT applications can also prevent patient harm. For example, when a popular drug was recently pulled off the market, a practice with an EHR system identified all patients on that drug and e-mailed them a notice about the drug's status. Although primary care practices have been slow to adopt EHRs (only about 30 percent have), once physicians use them, they don't want to go back. Health IT also enables persons with chronic diseases to be monitored electronically at home and transmit data to their physicians, who can use it to adjust their treatment. Communication plays a big role.
For example, Denver Health sends text messages to the cell phones of elderly adult patients with diabetes to remind them of medical appointments and asks them to text back their fasting blood-glucose levels three times a week. The goal is to improve disease self management. By enhancing access to care for underserved or disadvantaged populations, health IT can also reduce disparities in care. For example, an AHRQ-supported Virtual Patient Advocate project at Boston University is using avatars (onscreen representations of computer users) to improve the health of young black women. Another AHRQ-funded study showed that Iraq War veterans in rural areas who used telepsychiatry (therapy via videoconferencing) for post-traumatic stress disorder found it as effective as in-person therapy.
The critical importance of health IT to the care of Americans is underscored by the $19 billion funded for health IT by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and incentives it provides to physicians for meaningful use of EHRs.
Since 2004, AHRQ has invested in health IT projects in more than 200 communities, hospitals, providers, and health care systems in 48 States. The goals of AHRQ's health IT research are improved decisionmaking, medication management, and patient-centered care—whether that means bringing technology into the patient's home or connecting the patient to remote specialists. Among AHRQ's current health IT initiatives is the National Resource Center for Health IT (http://healthit.ahrq.gov), which provides technical help to stakeholders ranging from States and rural hospitals to clinicians. The Center provides the latest evidence on key health IT topics; lessons learned from AHRQ's State and regional demonstrations; and Web-based tools. Consumers use and want technology to inform their health decisions. They are leading us, not vice versa. Consumers are demanding tools to make their care more about them. Let's satisfy that demand!.
Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.