An enthusiastic crowd gathered on Capitol Hill to attend the HIT Showcase and Demonstration on June 17th. As part of National Health IT Week in Washington D.C., the Congressional Luncheon program coordinated by HIMSS and the Institute for e-Health Policy brought together leading experts for a panel discussion on the possibilities and need for using health technology in rural unserved and underserved communities.
Opening the event, Neal Neuberger, Executive Director for the Institute for e-Health Policy welcomed all the attendees, presenters, and the 178 co-sponsors taking part in the event. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and Founder of the Steering Committee thanked Neal for his excellent leadership in organizing the Capitol Hill briefings since 1993 and for being involved in a cutting-edge field that can make a big difference in the quality of life. In appreciation, the Senator was presented an award for all of his past and ongoing efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare.
Katie Oppenheim, Legislative Assistant for Senator Mike Crapo from Idaho relayed the message that the Senator realizes the importance of telehealth since it is used successfully in many rural areas of Idaho to provide high quality healthcare services.
Congressman David Wu from Oregon and Chair of the Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation is a strong force in addressing the anticipated healthcare IT workforce shortage. He stressed the need to increase training for health IT to meet the need for an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 workers in the future.
A focused discussion on the best way to bring the benefits of health IT to rural and underserved populations was moderated by Feygele Jacobs. She is Executive Vice President of the RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF) and she understands the critical issues since RCHN CHF is a not-for-profit supporting and devoted exclusively to the work of Community Health Centers.
From the federal government perspective, Garth N. Graham M.D. M.P.H, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, told the attendees that it is important for all populations in this country to have the same health expectancy even where there are disparities in the population. He mentioned how important it is to engage folks in the regional extension centers and to develop both public and private partnerships in order to make the necessary inroads needed into minority communities.
Ruth Perot, Executive Director/CEO, Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc. and the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT), said, “The Collaborative was formed with federal agencies and other key private sector and community-based stakeholders to make certain that no community is left behind as health IT leaves the station.” She continued to say “Health IT must be used as a tool to help close the health gaps particularly as African Americans and Hispanics very often do not receive equal care.”
Looking at the problem from a large organization that is very involved with minorities, J. David Liss, Vice President, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, reported that the hospital serves four campuses but only one campus has a wealthy patient base and the other three campuses treat primarily minorities. Since the minority community has an insufficient number of physicians available to treat patients, emergency rooms have an eight hour wait with a 12 hour wait for admission to the hospital.
The need for technology is great but he noted that the focus for technology should be on designing interfaces for the illiterate population. As Liss pointed out, one of the ways to reach the greatest number in the minority population is to use cell phones to help effectively manage healthcare.
Explaining how a regional and major referral and medical center operates, Chuck McDevitt, Chief Information Officer, at Self Regional Healthcare reported that Self provides advanced healthcare services to more than a quarter of a million people. Self located in Greenwood South Carolina, has 414 beds, employs 2,400 health professionals, and has a medical staff of more than 200 representing almost every major medical specialty.
Self’s focus is to provide healthcare to patients in seven counties most of which are located in rural settings. Self treats an aging diverse underserved black and white population with health issues that include diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. The average income in the area is $33,000 per year with unemployment rate at 12.8 percent plus 14.5 percent of the population is not being able to get care because of the high cost.
To help bring efficiency and better care to the population through the use of EHRs, Self recognized the need to replace its outdated technology and help physicians implement EHRs so they can qualify for the stimulus incentives. Self selected Allscripts and their EHR and Practice Management solution to help the physicians implement EHRs.
Kate Wilson, RN, BSN, Director of HIS, Arlington Free Clinic (AFC), Arlington VA discussed how a small non-profit volunteer organization providing healthcare to low income uninsured adults can adopt technology. AFC ventured into using an EMR back in 2005. The system with a simple patient demographic and appointment system also tracked basic clinic program reporting. However, with slow connectivity and an inflexible design, the system could not be used for clinical charting or care management— so the result was a continued dependence on paper charts.
In 2010, AFC’s new electronic medical record went live for the first time. The clinic was able to implement the new EMR (HealtheStates), that includes new eligibility screening and demographic software plus new pharmacy management software. The Clinic is working with the Virginia Hospital Center to develop an electronic interface to enable both AFC and VHC to exchange patient medical information.
According to Earl Rugg, Chief Executive Officer, Rural Health IT Corporation, in Portsmouth New Hampshire, RHTIC works to improve quality outcomes and lower costs for patients and hospitals using IT. RHTIC’s role is to help rural hospitals obtain federal grants to purchase electronic health systems.
To do this, RHTIC provides grant writing education seminars and consulting services throughout the entire grant process. So far, successful grant awards have gone to the Critical Access Hospital Consortium NH/VT, Critical Access Hospital Consortium including Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the University of North Dakota to include three Critical Access Hospitals and Tertiary Center, and to the Transylvania Community Hospital in Brevard N.C. that includes seven clinics.
The Technology Showcase featured leading federal agencies, associations, leading research organizations, and companies demonstrating their latest advances. For more information, email Neal Neuberger Executive Director, Institute for e-Health Policy at firstname.lastname@example.org.