Considered one the great advances of modern medicine, electronic health records can provide a patient’s entire medical history and a wealth of other information at the click of a button. They also have the potential to save countless lives and billions of dollars. Now, the University of Missouri has a two-year, $6.8 million cooperative agreement to help patients throughout the state benefit from increased use of this health information technology.
The Missouri Health Information Technology (HIT) Assistance Center was unveiled by MU on May 28, 2010, along with the funding awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The HIT Assistance Center will help hundreds of primary care providers throughout Missouri select electronic health records best suited to their practices. The center will then help the providers use the technology to improve quality, safety and efficiency in patient care.
The center will assist primary care providers in better understanding electronic health records through a variety of outreach and education programs. Providers will learn how the technology can help improve the quality of care, as well as the federal incentives for using electronic health records. Approximately 1,200 providers will be selected to receive services that will help them achieve meaningful use of electronic health records. The HIT Assistance Center will especially target primary care providers who serve uninsured, underinsured and medically underserved populations, especially those in rural areas.
“Our focus is helping primary care providers select, adopt and begin meaningful use of electronic health records,” said Grant Savage, PhD, the project’s principal investigator and chair of the medical school’s Department of Health Management and Informatics. “We see this as a way to dramatically improve the quality of care for the neediest people in Missouri.”
Meaningful use is an evolving set of criteria for electronic health records defined by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The criteria encourage providers to electronically capture health information, use the information to track key clinical conditions, communicate the information among providers to better coordinate patient care, and report clinical quality measures and public health data.
Data indicate that Missouri patients could particularly benefit from the electronically enhanced tracking and sharing of information about health risks and diseases. “Missouri rates for cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease, infant mortality, obesity and smoking are among the worst in the nation,” said Karen Edison, MD, the project’s co-principal investigator and director of MU’s Center for Health Policy. “Electronic health records are another important tool that can empower patients and physicians in their efforts to improve health. Studies have also found that primary care providers are at the forefront of practicing preventive medicine, which is essential for improving population health and reducing overall health costs.”
Missouri’s rankings among all 50 states and the District of Columbia are 40th for cardiovascular disease, 40th for cancer, 36th for kidney disease, 35th for infant mortality and 34th for obesity. Missouri also ranks 48th among states for rates of adult smoking.
The Missouri HIT Assistance Center at the MU School of Medicine is one of 28 non-profit organizations recently awarded funding to establish HIT Regional Extension Centers throughout the country. At MU, the center partners include the Department of Health Management and Informatics, which is ranked fifth nationally for its physician education program; the Center for Health Policy, which serves as a statewide resource for analysis, education and communication about trends in health care; the Department of Family and Community Medicine; which has ranked among the top 10 family medicine departments for more than 15 years; and the Missouri Telehealth Network. One of the nation’s first and largest telehealth networks, MU’s network has more than 200 telecommunication sites in 50 counties.
“Electronic health records are an increasingly important component of the University of Missouri’s efforts to improve patient care, medical education, research and the economy,” said Robert Churchill, MD, Hugh E. and Sarah D. Stephenson Dean of the MU School of Medicine. “As the primary provider of medical education for Missouri, MU has a unique ability to lead this statewide transformation in health care.”
The Missouri HIT Assistance Center’s other partners include Primaris, which is the state’s federally designated health care quality improvement organization; the Hospital Industry Data Institute, a subsidiary of the Missouri Hospital Association; the Missouri Primary Care Association; and the Kansas City Quality Improvement Consortium.
“Our strengths lie in the strong partnerships that form the Missouri HIT Assistance Center,” Edison said. “The foundational support of these groups will be integral to our success.”
MU’s cooperative agreement to establish an HIT Regional Extension Center for Missouri is part of $267 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds awarded nationally to achieve widespread meaningful use of health information technology.