Community health centers making HIT progress

Community health centers have adopted health IT at rates higher than office-based physicians, including large practices and large integrated healthcare systems, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund.

It found that use of electronic health records increased 133 percent between 2009 and 2013. As of last year, 85 percent of such federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) reported that they had achieved advanced health IT capabilities, compared with just 30 percent in 2009. That means they could perform at least nine of 13 key functions, such as electronically prescribing medications.

Additionally, the survey found that more than three-fourths of the largest centers can share lab results (83 percent), imaging reports (76 percent), medication lists (80 percent) and visit summaries (77 percent) electronically within their organization. However, those percentages dropped off dramatically when it came to data-sharing with other organizations, according to the fund's technology issue brief.

While achieving greater interoperability of EHR systems and ensuring patient access to their records remain challenges for these organizations, the survey found that mobile technologies are helping to expand patient outreach and access to care.

In 2012, the centers treated 21 million people, regardless of their ability to pay. Staffing remains a worry as demand for services grows through the Affordable Care Act. The centers plan to ensure access to care in a number of ways, including through adoption of telemedicine and other technologies, according to the brief.

"Their progress demonstrates that with concerted investment and support, substantial change is possible," Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said in a statement. "It makes the case for continued investment to make sure these clinics can continue caring for some of our nation's most vulnerable patients."

A survey last fall by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, however, found community health centers making progress with EHRs, but still struggling with Meaningful Use. Only 9 percent of those polled had successfully attested to the Meaningful Use requirements.  

Community health centers in states that are not expanding Medicaid may miss out on an estimated $569 million in additional revenue, providing more financial struggles as their caseloads increase. Meanwhile, FierceEMR's Marla Hirsch has worried that Meaningful Use will further divide the "haves" and the "have-nots" in their access to care.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- find the issue brief (.pdf)