Healthcare providers applauded HHS' recent awarding of $139 million in grants to help hospitals and communities adopt information technology as the increasingly popular topic also got time in the third presidential debate.
HHS awarded the grants through its Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which will distribute the money to propel momentum on healthcare IT, "especially in the rural and small communities throughout America where the need is so great," AHRQ Director Carolyn Clancy said in a news release.
As providers and other grant recipients make plans to install electronic health records and embark on other ambitious information projects, the topic of bringing new automation to healthcare has become such a hot policy matter that President Bush brought it up in his final debate with the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry.
"One of the reasons why there's still high cost in medicine is because (healthcare providers) don't use any information technology," Bush said in the debate. "It's the equivalent of the buggy and horse days, compared to other industries here in America." In April, Bush called for every American to have an electronic health record by 2014.
More than 100 of the AHRQ's grants totaling some $96 million will be distributed to hospitals, doctors and communities in 38 states to plan, implement and measure the value of healthcare IT. First-year funding for the new IT grants was set at about $50 million, with much of the funds earmarked for rural providers.
The HHS grants -- and the attention paid to healthcare IT by the presidential candidates -- are a good start, but additional assistance from the federal government will be required to achieve significant progress, some hospital lobbyists say. "More help is needed," says Kristin Welsh, a lobbyist for the American Hospital Association. It's important to focus on rural providers, she says, but "regardless of your size, it's just frankly expensive" to adopt new technologies.
In Kentucky, Lexington-based Appalachian Regional Healthcare will use a $1.5 million grant to buy hardware for the first stages of an electronic health record and to finance training and personnel costs associated with the change.
"I view these awards as a building block to advance the adoption of electronic health records. ... These projects will encourage real world laboratories for innovation," says David Brailer, M.D., HHS' national coordinator for health information technology.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of Modern Healthcare.