Health IT at small-care providers under review

Federal agency plans to look at six practices affiliated with Vanderbilt University.

To see how health IT systems affect workflows, government-funded researchers are planning to descend on six small medical practices in Tennessee.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) says it wants to conduct the study because previous reviews of health IT and workflow have focused on large academic medical centers and health maintenance organizations, according to a notice published today in the Federal Register. Earlier studies failed to properly consider how factors such as training, technical support and organizational culture affect findings, the agency contends.

AHRQ proposes looking at six small practices affiliated with Vanderbilt University that are in different stages of implementing health IT systems. The intent is to study how health IT systems affect staff members who care for patients with diabetes.

The practices, which have electronic health records, are implementing a Vanderbilt program, My Health Record, that outlines new care protocols for patients with diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure, according to the Federal Register notice. 

The new program’s health IT components include patient registries, at-home monitoring of physiological conditions, two-way electronic clinical messaging via a patient portal, and alerts to track incidents of acute care.

The agency says it intends to use the findings to help medical practices implement health IT systems, identify best practices, and influence the design and evaluation of health IT tools.

AHRQ is asking the Office of Management and Budget to approve the 14-month study. The public can comment on the request through the end of December.