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Improving Quality Within the Safety Net

February 21, 2012
by Charlene Marietti
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About one in five Americans live in a rural area that lacks healthcare services and infrastructure. Bringing quality healthcare and supporting the caregivers who serve those patient populations is the focus for the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Health Information Technology & Quality, Department of Health Resources and Services Administration, otherwise known as HRSA. The agency touches about 21 million Americans—or about 7.5 percent of the population, says HRSA Deputy Director Martin Rice, RN, MS. In an educational session February 21 at HIMSS in Las Vegas, he asked, "If we don't include these populations, how can we have an integrated system?"

Health information technology adoption is essential to these goals—and critical in delivering care and improving quality and outcomes. And thanks to HRSA's focus and support, there is good news to report.

According to HRSA Director Yael Harris, Ph.D., MHS, the organizations they serve and support are making good progress and aggressively adopting electronic health records (EHR). Two in three community health centers are using an EHR. Forty-four percent use EHRs for behavioral health and 50 percent for electronic dental records. Not only that, more than 90 percent of them plan to apply for meaningful use funds. Not unlike their colleagues in larger hospitals and integrated delivery systems, staff training, system costs and vendor issues are their top challenges.