Federal Policies Pushing Technology Adoption

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO -- The federal government has stepped up its initiatives pushing for the adoption of electronic health records and other information technologies, Eduardo Ortiz, M.D., said at the triennial congress of the International Medical Informatics Association.

The goals of improving patient safety, improving the quality of care, and containing health care costs drive federal interest in this area. "Congress wants to deal with the safety issue, so they're delivering money for health information technology [HIT]," said Dr. Ortiz of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

He summarized some of the major initiatives in progress:

* The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) budget for HIT-related research jumped from $12 million in 2003 to $60 million in 2004. Three solicitations for grant proposals drew more than 1,000 initial queries and 600 final proposals, the largest response in AHRQ's history, Dr. Ortiz said.

Of $7 million allocated for grants related to planning for HIT, $5 million will go to projects related to small and rural communities, he noted. Of $24 million dedicated to studies implementing HIT, $14 million is set aside for small and rural communities. Another $10 million will go to projects assessing the value of adopting and using HIT, with the rest of the $60 million targeted to other HIT topics.

* Rather than reinvent the wheel, some clinicians are looking to learn from the experience of two large medical systems that already use computerized patient record systems--the VA and Kaiser Permanente. The VA created a low-cost, public-domain version of its electronic health records (EHR) system, called the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) Office EHR (better known by its nickname, "VistA Lite"), that has been tested in three public health clinics in Washington, D.C. The 1-year results are being written up now, Dr. Ortiz said.

The AHRQ granted the Indian Health Service $2 million this year for a pilot project to start using VistA Lite, he added. …