HHS preparing to award $50M for Health IT Research Center

HITRC will work with regional extension centers to promote health IT

The Health and Human Services Department is preparing to award a series of task orders totaling about $50 million to establish a national Health Information Technology Research Center (HITRC) to support promotion of electronic health records, a senior official said today.

The HITRC will assist about 60 health IT regional extension centers, which aim to help 100,000 priority providers to adopt and meaningfully use digital record systems, said Joshua Seidman, acting director of the meaningful use division in the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. He spoke at a conference today sponsored by the eHealth Initiative, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving health care quality and efficiency through health IT.

HHS expects to designate about half the extensions centers within weeks, Seidman said. The extension centers are funded with $598 million in funding under the economic stimulus law.

Overall, the stimulus law provided $20 billion for health IT, including $17 billion for incentive payments to doctors and hospitals that buy and meaningfully use electronic record systems.

On Dec. 30, HHS made public a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that outlined Stage 1 objectives for meaningful use by 2011. Those include 25 quality objectives for physicians and 23 for hospitals. Stage 2 objectives will be published in December 2011, and Stage 3 will be released in December 2013, Seidman said.

Seidman said his division has a mission of helping priority providers, which include small practices, critical care centers, public access hospitals, community and rural clinics, and facilities that serve the uninsured and underserved.

“My focus is how we get to meaningful use,” Seidman said. “It is a pretty ambitious goal.”

The road to meaningful use includes adopting health IT systems, participating in health information exchanges, engaging consumers with e-mail and other means of communication, and redesigning practice workflows, he said.

The HITRC will offer a Virtual Learning Community through a Web portal and will develop communities of practice for various research topics to support meaningful use.

The extension centers will offer unbiased guidance on vendor selection and group purchasing, workflow redesign, interoperability and health information exchange, project management and implementation, privacy and security best practices, and workforce support, Seidman added.

The centers also will have customer relationship management systems that will track interactions with the doctors and clinics.

Before joining HHS in November 2009, Seidman founded the Center for Information Therapy, which advanced the practice of using technology to deliver science-based health information to consumers when they need it. Some of the principles of information therapy are included in HHS’ meaningful use definition; for example, doctors who want to be meaningful users must provide an electronic copy of a patient’s medical record to the patient within 48 hours if the patient requests it.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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