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Press Release Date: April 11, 2006
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) released a report today 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. AHRQ is helping to fill this gap with findings from more than 100 projects across the country. These projects make up AHRQ's $166 million health IT initiative.
The report, Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology, is a synthesis 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. This report reviews scientific data about the implementation of health IT to date, as documented in studies published through 2003. It does not project future health care benefits or savings, in contrast to other reports.
The authors conclude that scientific reviews have shown significant improvements in the quality of health care utilizing 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. AHRQ's initiative is developing data needed about how to put health IT to work in more common health care settings such as physicians' offices and hospitals.
"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 concludes. "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."
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 nation's 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, according to the report.
As a result, a predominant portion of health care providers in America have not had the information they need to calculate the impact of health IT implementation on their organizations.
"Health care providers need reliable information that tells them what they can expect when they implement health IT systems," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "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. AHRQ's health IT initiative is designed to generate and share the kind of information providers need."
Dr. Clancy said AHRQ's health IT initiative will help deliver 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 launched in September 2004, and most projects have 3-year duration.
The AHRQ-sponsored research will yield scientifically valid information that will share the experiences of typical providers in implementing health IT systems. This includes both the impact on quality and safety of care as well as the organizational impact of implementing health IT systems.
"AHRQ's initiative is a real-world laboratory, showing how health IT can be used successfully in typical health care settings," Dr. Clancy said. "The experiences of our grantees will be shared broadly to help all health care providers more successfully adopt health IT."
Findings from the AHRQ projects are being made available through the AHRQ National Resource Center for Health Information Technology, at http://www.healthit.ahrq.gov.
The report released today was prepared by the Southern California Evidence-based Practice Center-RAND Corporation, 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 report was requested and funded by AHRQ and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion also provided financial support. Others requesting the report were HHS' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Leapfrog Group, an organization of health care purchasers.
The report is available at http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/hitsystp.htm. In addition, an interactive database providing access to the studies reviewed as part of the report will be available at http://healthit.ahrq.gov/tools/rand.
An article summarizing the report will be published in the May 16 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine. It also will be available starting April 11 at http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/0000605-200605160-00125v1.
For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: (301) 427-1855 or (301) 427-1922.