Dirt Roads and the Digital Divide

Rural areas of the country that have some of the highest rates of chronic disease are far less likely than urban areas to benefit from health information technology. It's not just a dearth of electronic health records. In many cases, rural health care providers don't have access to reliable broadband.

Rural areas of the country that have some of the highest rates of chronic disease are far less likely than urban areas to benefit from health information technology. It's not just a dearth of electronic health records. In many cases, rural health care providers don't have access to reliable broadband.

The disparity between urban and rural areas of the country may have been on the mind of David Blumenthal last week when he acknowledged that the nationwide rollout of a health IT infrastructure should pay particular attention to places on the poor side of the digital divide.

"We're hoping there will be a rural community of practice formed as part of the (health IT extension center) process," said Blumenthal, HHS's national coordinator for health information technology. Government Health IT magazine reported on statements made by Blumenthal at a rural health IT conference sponsored by the American Health Information Management Association and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The Office of the National Coordinator has awarded $643 million in grants through the extension program for 60 centers, reports GHIT.

Blumenthal also noted that rural areas could constitute up to five of 15 beacon communities being created to transform and improve the efficacy of local health IT systems. The so-called beacons are meant to be models for other communities seeking to bolster health IT.