From the Director

Research Activities, February 2012, No. 378

As innovative health information technology (health IT) systems are developed, so does our awareness of the need to use the right technology to target a specific problem or help a particular patient. At the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), our research in health IT is helping us gain an understanding of multicultural factors, the way humans interact with technology and each other, and better ways to manage medical conditions.

By investing in this type of research, we're saving time, money, and lives. In 2012, we'll be building on our previous successes. For example, when children get sick at school or day care, parents often must leave work early to go to the doctor's office or even the emergency room (ER). But with technology and parental permission, some schools allow a child's own doctor to make a virtual office visit to the school or day care center. Trained assistants use cameras, an electronic telescope, and other equipment to share information with children's doctors. Physicians can then diagnose, prescribe, and discuss treatments with parents and school staff over a secure Internet connection. This Health-e-Access program has lowered health costs by more than 23 percent by reducing ER visits in the Rochester, NY, area.

Another health IT program makes it less likely that people in nursing homes will develop pressure ulcers, which when untreated can become life-threatening. A computer program called On-Time helps identify patients who are likely to develop pressure sores and then creates care plans to prevent them. As a former nursing home aide, I'm particularly excited about On-Time. In the 21 facilities that used this program, the incidence of pressure ulcers declined by more than 42 percent.

The cover story in this issue of Research Activities highlights other ways that health IT is tackling difficult problems to improve care access and quality for diverse populations. Of course, even the best health IT can't replace the clinician-patient relationship, but health IT gives us more ways to deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time.

Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.

Page last reviewed February 2012
Internet Citation: From the Director: Research Activities, February 2012, No. 378. February 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.