ONC: EHRs help reduce health disparities for American Indians, Native Alaskans

Electronic health records are helping to close the healthcare gap between American Indians and Alaskan Natives and other Americans, according to a recent post by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT officials to the Health IT Buzz blog.

The April 25 post--by Larry Jessup, project officer for ONC's regional extension center program and Nichol Todd, senior data coordinator at ONC's office of provider adoption and support--noted that American Indian and Alaska Natives face disproportionate health outcomes. However, Jessup and Todd said, EHRs can reduce such health disparities because of their ability to link these populations' multiple providers in multiple states and directly transmit information to public health facilities for tracking. EHRs also positively impact provider workflow and patient tracking within these populations, Jessup and Todd said.

The National Indian Health Board REC, the regional extension center for Indian country, has been working with the Indian Health Services and providers treating these populations to adopt EHRs. More than 1,100 NIHB providers have successfully attested to Meaningful Use and received more than $25 million in incentive payments, according to Jessup and Todd.

Currently, there are 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and their descendants eligible for services provided by the Indian Health Service.

Others also have recognized the potential of EHRs to reducing health disparities. Twenty four members of the House of Representatives recently asked ONC and CMS to leverage the development of Stage 3 of the Meaningful Use program to reduce and potentially eliminate health disparities.

Ironically, Meaningful Use may unintentionally increase health disparities, as hospitals with more resources have an easier time successfully attesting and obtaining the incentive payments, while smaller, rural hospitals that typically treat a greater percentage of sicker, uninsured and Medicaid populations will be more likely to incur penalties for failing to demonstrate Meaningful Use.

To learn more:
- read the blog post
- learn about American Indian/Alaska Native health disparities