5 lessons for primary care docs using health IT to improve quality

Primary care practices, even small ones, can use health IT to support quality improvement (QI), according to a new paper from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which offers guidance for doing so.

The paper highlights the efforts of two primary care practices--a small, independent practice, Foresight Family Physicians in Grand Junction, Colorado; and an academic one, the University of Missouri Health System in Columbia--as well as a health information network working with safety net clinics and small practices, OCHIN in Portland.

"Using health IT for QI requires purposeful and thoughtful planning, effort, and allocation of resources, all of which entail significant costs to primary care practices in terms of capital, clinician and staff training, and time," the paper states.

It also requires:

  • A practice culture with a strong commitment to using health IT for QI
  • High-functioning health IT tools to enable tracking and extraction of data
  • Clinical team and staff knowledge and skills related to both health IT and QI
  • Processes and workflows that incorporate effective use of health IT for QI

Among the lessons for providers:

  1. Vision and leadership are critical
  2. To ease transformation, emphasize that using health IT for QI ultimately will help patients
  3. Establishing a dedicated QI team, as well as regular communication between the QI team and the rest of the practice, builds QI into regular operations
  4. Clearly define QI goals, strategies and health IT roles before starting. Continued surveillance and commitment to improving are necessary to sustain QI
  5. Transitioning from using health IT to document visits to using health IT-generated data in a transformative way for QI requires time, training and workflow shifts

The paper stresses the value of organizations being able to set their own goals and approach, and that they might require financial assistance to acquire the necessary tools and outside IT expertise to use them effectively, which echoes results from a case study of practices in the Colorado Beacon Consortium.

Meanwhile, a case study from the Utah Beacon Experience found that with proper training, small clinics can use electronic clinical data to help patients with diabetes.

To learn more:
- read the paper (.pdf)