Focusing health IT on improving minority health gaps

Health IT must be available, affordable and sustainable in underserved communities to improve the health of people with higher rates of poverty and chronic disease, write two officials from Morehouse School of Medicine in a recent post to Health IT Buzz blog.

Despite the uptake in electronic health records, disparities remain in rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and HIV/AIDS--conditions that often are preventable. Georgia's Regional Extension Center is working to provide physicians with health IT tools to better coordinate care for patients living with many of these chronic conditions.

The post points to a recent study that found that Hispanic and black patients whose physicians use electronic health records with clinical decision support had improved blood pressure control and results similar to whites' in comparison with those whose doctors still used paper systems.

Minority patients are also significantly less likely to participate with electronic patient portals, which can be an effective means of providing education and a way to keep patient care on track. A recent Kaiser Permanente study, for instance, found diabetic portal users had improved medication adherence and cholesterol levels.

"It is important that national HIT initiatives are effective in assuring that certified EHR and other innovative HIT tools are disseminated fairly to primary care providers who treat underserved populations for the improvement of patient engagement and clinical outcomes to help eliminate health disparities," the authors write.

In a separate post, National Coordinator for Health IT Karen DeSalvo pledges commitment to reducing technology gaps among people of color.

The "HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities" addresses making sure electronic tools are available to support access to quality care for everyone, she says in a post written in collaboration with J. Nadine Garcia, deputy assistant secretary for minority health. Its strategy is focused on four core areas:

  • Adoption of health IT in all communities
  • Improving patient care by creating culturally and linguistically appropriate eHealth tools
  • Facilitating secure exchange and confidentiality of patient data
  • Patient-centered consumer engagement

The discussion is ongoing about advancing health equity and DeSalvo invites communities and advocates to join in.

A guide released last summer by the Equity of Care initiative and the American Hospital Association outlines how to become a "culturally competent" hospital, which it defines as the ability to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, and tailoring healthcare delivery methods to meet their social, cultural and linguistic needs.

To learn more:
- here's the post from the Morehouse officials
- read DeSalvo's post
- check out the HHS action plan (.pdf)



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