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Health Information Technology

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New information will help health care providers adopt health information technologies

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) released a report acknowledging that while health information technology (IT) 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, 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 on how to put health IT to work in more common health care settings such as physicians' offices and hospitals.

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. AHRQ's health IT initiative will help deliver reliable information to health care providers that tells them what they can expect when they implement health IT systems. 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.

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.

Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology 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 use of 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 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Leapfrog Group, an organization of health care purchasers.

The report Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology Evidence Report No. 132 (Publication No. 06-E006) is available at http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/tp/hitsystp.htm or through the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse. In addition, an interactive database providing access to the studies reviewed as part of the report will be available at http://www.healthit.ahrq.gov/tools/rand.

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