How many lives—and how much money—could be saved if all of a patient’s health care information, including test results, orders, medications, health histories, and insurance information, was stored in one record, easily accessible by health care professionals anywhere?

Arun Sen
Sen

This is the future President Obama envisions for health care in the United States, but it is dependent on the sharpest minds in management of information systems and IT. Through a $5.2 million grant from the federal government, Arun Sen, professor of information and operations management at Mays, and two A&M colleagues will develop one of four regional extension centers for health care IT for the state of Texas, creating a resource for doctors as patient health care records become digitized in compliance with goals set by the Obama administration for a paperless health care system.

Sen says that soon health care information will be available via an electronic pipeline that will move patient records from local to state to national levels. The National Health Information Network is already under development. Sen and A&M colleagues Robert Morrow of Rural and Community Health Institute (RCHI) and Amarnath Banerjee of Look College of Engineering at A&M are creating the system through which Texas health care providers will upload patient information to this national system. The team of researchers from A&M will be on the leading edge of designing an electronic health record (EHR) system to be used for the state.

These three researchers will also establish the CentrEast Regional Extension Center (centreastrec.org) for HealthCare IT and a health information exchange (HIE)—a hub for providers to coordinate with the national system.

“This is a very ambitious project,” Sen says.

THE HITECH ACT

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which included the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act). The HITECH Act includes provisions to promote “meaningful use” of health information technology to improve the quality and value of American healthcare.

The objective of the HITECH Act is to implement a nationwide health information technology (health IT) infrastructure that allows for the use and exchange of electronic health information in electronic format. In 2015, providers are expected to have adopted and be actively utilizing an EHR in compliance with the “meaningful use” definition or they will be subject to financial penalties under Medicare (per Sections 4101(b) and 4102(b) of ARRA).

Streamlining patient records by digitizing and sharing them is still optional for health care providers. However, by 2015, providers must participate in the national network, or risk nonpayment or partial payment from Medicare and Medicaid. Providers seeking to use EHRs face a variety of challenges, such as assessing needs, selecting and negotiating with a system vendor or reseller, implementing project management, and instituting workflow changes to improve clinical performance and ultimately, outcomes. Past experience has shown that local technical assistance can result in effective implementation of EHRs.

There will be 60 such centers in the U.S. Sen’s work will involve researching how patient information is currently handled and developing a more efficient process as providers modernize their record systems. The center will also connect providers with vendors who specialize in digitizing records, and will serve as a data repository for all area providers.

The federal funding for the center will last for four years, with the bulk of the money provided in the first two years. By years three and four, Sen says the center should be a self-sufficient business, as doctors will pay for the services and resources provided. Sen predicts there will be a large demand from area providers as the center advances healthcare in the region. The ultimate measure of a the center’s effectiveness will be whether it has assisted providers in becoming meaningful users of certified EHR technology.