Connecting to the Future of Health Care

BPHC Associate Administrator Jim Macrae presided over two days of meetings (Sept. 18-19) with state officials working to speed the adoption of health information technology in health centers nationwide. Computerized record systems promise to revolutionize care delivery while dramatically cutting costs and medical errors.
BPHC Associate Administrator Jim Macrae presided over two days of meetings (Sept. 18-19) with state officials working to speed the adoption of health information technology in health centers nationwide. Computerized record systems promise to revolutionize care delivery while dramatically cutting costs and medical errors.

 

Acting HRSA Administrator Tom Engels -- who oversaw adoption of a statewide health information system in Wisconsin --  addressed officials from state Primary Care Associations, which recently were awarded almost $42 million to expand and maintain Health Center Controlled Networks to promote the use of digital technology.

Acting HRSA Administrator Tom Engels -- who oversaw adoption of a statewide health information system in Wisconsin --  addressed officials from state Primary Care Associations, which recently were awarded almost $42 million to expand and maintain Health Center Controlled Networks to promote the use of digital technology.

The networks are groups of health centers cooperating to make computerized records systems easier for providers and patients to use; harden the security of private health information; and analyze bulk data to spot trends and improve patient care and safety. In the past three years alone, the number of health centers participating in the networks has increased from 70 percent to 86 percent.

"Overall, Health Center Controlled Networks ... serve 24 million patients at over 10,000 participating health center sites," observed the Acting Administrator, "(and) help health centers navigate the operational and clinical challenges related to the use of health information technology ... And many of you are working to ensure that patients have better access to their own personal health data."

Besides modernizing how records are stored and used -- enabling them to be rapidly transmitted between participating clinics, specialists and pharmacies, for example, to speed diagnoses and treatment -- the networks stand to make health centers more efficient at a time when they are being asked to take on larger missions within their communities and absorb expected up-ticks in demand. Among key considerations, Engels noted:

  • Implementing Value-Based Care, which HHS Secretary Alex Azar has summed up as "better healthcare at a lower price" -- in other words, paying for overall health outcomes rather than individual procedures. Electronic systems will enable health centers to more easily capture and sort bulk data about their patients' progress in such a payment scheme;
  • Lowering prescription drug pricing by better tracking outlays for medications across the health center patient population;
  • Battling the nation's opioid crisis, as HRSA has awarded more than $200 million to health centers to boost access to integrated behavioral health services, including care for substance use disorders. Better data will help manage the increased demand for services, particularly for those in integrated primary care settings and rural communities. From 2016 to 2018, for example, the number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment in health centers already has ballooned by 142 percent;
  • HRSA also is at the forefront of the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative. Along with Ryan White HIV/AIDS providers, health centers will play a key role in stepping up screening and diagnostic efforts, as well as providing HIV prevention medications -- with the potential for a substantial increase in patient rolls. From more than 2 million HIV screenings today, health centers could find themselves testing and treating far more patients as the initiative takes hold; 
  • Simultaneously, the agency is seeking to increase access to oral health care, with the recent awarding of more than $85 million to nearly 300 health centers nationwide to pay for dental expansion -- the largest such outlay in recent years.

Associate Administrator Jim Macrae noted that the movement to electronic records has improved the quality of care at health centers by enabling sophisticated data analysis not possible in older records systems. Not surprisingly, he added, the highest performing health centers nationwide have tended to be early adopters of digital record-keeping.

Further, Macrae said, Health Center Controlled Networks could help health centers meet program compliance requirements more efficiently, which in turn helps to improve quality.

"Compliance really is the foundation for being a high-performer," Macrae said.

Date Last Reviewed:  October 2019