HHS announces initiative to stimulate adoption of electronic health records in minority communities

June 15, 2011--The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Minority Health and Quest Diagnostics, based in Madison, N.J., today announced a program through which Quest Diagnostics will donate electronic health record (EHR) software and services to physicians in small practices serving minority populations in Houston, Texas.

The initiative is intended to foster broader adoption and use of EHRs and support national efforts to reduce health disparities affecting minorities.

Quest Diagnostics and its subsidiary, MedPlus, will donate approximately 75 EHR licenses, including subscription fees, for 12 months and will help integrate the necessary information technology components within participating physician practices. It will collaborate with the federally-funded Regional Extension Center (REC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston on staff education and training. RECs are funded under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the Recovery Act of 2009.

"The Office of Minority Health is pleased to support this coordinated effort to show how electronic health records can be used by minority-serving physicians," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health Garth N. Graham, M.D. "We applaud Quest Diagnostic's support of the department's efforts to reduce health disparities, and hope this initiative will stimulate more efforts to extend the use of EHRs, especially in smaller practices and underserved communities that face special challenges in acquiring or implementing this technology."

Data from the 2005-2006 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey show that EHR adoption is lower among providers serving Hispanic patients who are uninsured or rely on Medicaid, and is lower among providers serving uninsured, non-Hispanic black patients than among providers serving privately insured, non-Hispanic white patients.

"Quest Diagnostics strongly believes that equal access to electronic health record technology is a critical component in improving wellness and delivering better health outcomes," said Dr. Jon R. Cohen, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Quest Diagnostics. "We are pleased to join with HHS in this important initiative to make this advanced technology more available to underserved communities."

Quest Diagnostics and MedPlus will donate approximately 85 percent of the cost of health provider EHR licenses, program integration, monthly subscription fees, and education and training. Since 2006, an exception to the Federal Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute has permitted donation of certain EHR arrangements but requires recipients to pay 15 percent of donor costs.

Other partners include the National Health Information Technology Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT), a Washington, D.C.-based public, private and community partnership that supports the effective use of health information in underserved populations with emphasis on communities of color, the Healthcare & Information Management Systems Society Latino Initiative Workgroup, and Medic Success, a New Jersey company that promotes health-related solutions for underserved communities. These groups will assist in physician recruitment. The Office of Minority Health will be responsible for program evaluation.

A health care provider who wishes to participate in this initiative must:

  • Practice in a Medically Underserved Area (MUA) or Health Provider Shortage Area (HPSA) designated by HHS;
  • Have an Internet connection and use an electronic billing system;
  • Be a small practice group of one to five providers or a Federally Qualified Health Center within the MUA and/or PSA.
  • Be eligible to receive "meaningful use" incentives, as defined by the HITECH Act; and
  • Complete an initial application and submit monthly reports.  

Quest Diagnostics responded to an October 2010 invitation from the department to the vendor community to work with HHS to help reduce health information technology disparities.

For more information regarding this initiative and how providers can participate, please contact Dr. Meera Kanhouwa ([email protected]), or Marcia Thomas-Brown ([email protected]).


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