The use of electronic health records (EHRs) has significantly increased at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) over the past five years, according to new research from The Commonwealth Fund.
Federal incentives from meaningful use under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) as well as other financial incentives have spurred the impressive growth, a 133 percent uptick in adoption at FQHCs (or as they are known, community health centers). The Commonwealth's report uses findings from the 2013 Commonwealth Fund National Survey of FQHCs, which is a follow-up to the survey that New York-based nonprofit conducted in 2009.
Eighty-five percent of community health centers reported they had achieved advanced HIT capabilities in 2013, meaning they could achieve nine of 13 key functions. In 2009, only 30 percent could do that.
“It’s encouraging to see how far community health centers have come in their health information technology use,” Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, M.D., and former National Coordinator for Health IT, said in a statement. “Their progress demonstrates that with concerted investment and support, substantial change is possible. It makes the case for continued investment to make sure these clinics can continue caring for some of our nation’s most vulnerable patients.”
Overall, the report looks at how FQHCs are preparing for the anticipated increase in healthcare demand as people gain insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Eighty-three percent of respondents say physician supply will be a major or minor problem, and 73 percent say recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of nurse practitioners and physician assistants will continue to be a problem. One of the ways they are dealing with this shortage is by introducing telemedicine and other technologies that allow patients to access health care remotely (17 percent). Others are investing in expanded and better-integrated behavioral health services (53 percent) and hiring new medical staff (31 percent).
“Community health centers are a critical component of the health care safety net, and they will continue to treat uninsured individuals, even as the percentage of people with coverage increases,” Melinda Abrams, report coauthor The Commonwealth Fund’s Vice President for Delivery System Reform, said in a statement. “As demand for their services increases, it will be essential for health centers to have the resources necessary to meet patients’ needs.”
For the survey, the Commonwealth surveyed 679 executive directors or clinical directors at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). The nonprofit offered a number of recommendations to the government on the shortage at FQHCs including helping clinics recruit providers with targeted outreach and providing higher reimbursements at "health homes."