Government // Leadership
Commentary
10/26/2009
01:03 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Hospitals Serving Poor Lag In Healthcare IT

It's no surprise that hospitals which serve predominantly poor patients are lagging in implementing healthcare IT. However, it's a cause for concern that the federal stimulus program might not be up to the task of closing that gap, according to federally supported researchers.

It's no surprise that hospitals which serve predominantly poor patients are lagging in implementing healthcare IT. However, it's a cause for concern that the federal stimulus program might not be up to the task of closing that gap, according to federally supported researchers.Hospitals that serve a poorer clientele have lower adoption rates of health IT, according to the study. And hospitals with fewer IT systems do worse in performance measures than hospitals with more robust IT.

The good news: Hospitals who serve poorer clientele can close the performance gap with their wealthier brethren, if they have robust IT, the study found.

The findings are the results of an 11-page summary report, Evidence of an Emerging Digital Divide Among Hospitals That Care for the Poor, which appeared today. The study was jointly funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The fully study will appear in November as part of the third annual report on health IT adoption by the foundation and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

The study will challenge federal policymakers to pay attention to hospitals that serve the poor, to ensure they have adequate support for IT programs, according to physician Ashish Jha, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was the lead author of the report.

One major problem: It's hard to estimate in advance how much federal funding hospitals that serve the poor will receive, and whether it will be enough. That's because the formulas for funding are complex under the Medicare and Medicaid hospital incentive programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Doctors will receive up to $44,000 under Medicare and $63,750 under Medicaid, which should be very helpful. But the $5-$15 million hospitals receive doesn't even come close to getting the bigger hospitals up to speed on healthcare IT.



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