This week begins the recruitment phase of a partnership among the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health, the Chicago-based American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and North Shore Medical Labs Inc. (Williston Park, N.Y.). With this partnership, AHIMA will provide free health IT training to providers and staff in underserved communities, and North Shore will donate its electronic health record (EHR) software and services through Nortec Software Inc. The demonstration program will assist physicians in small practices in Alabama, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
Provider recruitment efforts will be conducted by the Mississippi Institute for Improvement of Geographic Minority Health (Jackson), which focuses on key indicators of health status in Mississippi and targets mechanisms to increase the knowledge surrounding these conditions along with strategies to improve them, and the North Carolina Health Information Management Association (NCHIMA), which works to advance professional practice and standards for effective management and security of health information across the continuum of care.
For providers to qualify for the training and EHRs, they must meet certain requirements, including having a large percentage of Medicare or Medicaid patients; serve in a Medically Underserved Area (MUA) or Health Provider Shortage Area (HPSA) designated by HHS; have an Internet connection and use an electronic billing system; be a small practice group of one to five providers or a Federally Qualified Health Center within the MUA and/or PSA; be eligible to receive "meaningful use" incentives, as defined by the HITECH Act; and complete an initial application and submit monthly reports.
This program will recruit approximately 100 providers, who after completing training will receive EHR licenses, including subscription fees, for 12 months. Nortec will help integrate the necessary information technology components within participating physician practices. North Shore Medical Labs will donate approximately 75 percent of the cost of the Nortec EHR licenses, program integration, monthly subscription fees, as well as discounted education and training. Since 2006, an exception to the Federal Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute has permitted the donation of certain EHR arrangements but requires recipients to pay a small proportion of donor costs.
AHIMA will provide six hours of web-based training for health IT to providers who work in underserved communities. Modules will take 10 to 12 weeks to complete and contain information like EHR implementation basics, workflow design, and meaningful use information. Beta testing has been taking place at local universities to gather provider input, and changes can be made at any time along the way.
“I think the thing that sets our program apart from other offerings, is we have a lot of hands-on experience using real electronic health records and real healthcare data,” says Bill Rudman, vice president, educational visioning at AHIMA and executive director of the AHIMA Foundation. “So as [providers] go through the different steps in the modules, they actually get to play with real electronic health records.”
Rudman says that he has done research on regional disparities and using health IT in underserved areas for many years and started brainstorming this project three months ago with David Dietz, commander, HHS. The two thought a natural starting place would be Mississippi, and then had a conversation with Audrey Chase, RHIA, president, North Carolina Health Information Management Association, who thought that North Carolina would be a good fit as well.
“We’re making sure this program is based on scientific rigor, and we will be tracking how they did on the tests, whether or not they got a new job, so we’ll be able to do a lot of follow up on this,” says Rudman.