HRSA grants $8.1M to help health centers boost IT use

Nearly 100 community health centers in the U.S. will get more federal funds to improve current technologies or get new information systems.

The cash infusion of $8.1 million is also intended to improve connectivity among primary care providers.

The funds come from the Health Resources and Services Administration and are designated for OCHIN, a health information and innovation network serving 500 organizations and 10,000 clinicians to improve the integration and delivery of health services.

OCHIN, in turn, will distribute the funds to health centers, which are required to serve all patients regardless of the ability to pay. OCHIN also has an electronic record system from Epic that the health centers use.

The new grants enable recipients to leverage technology to improve patient care coordination, reduce provider burden and connect to immunization registries, prescription drug monitoring programs and health information exchanges.

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Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center, a federally qualified center with five sites in North Carolina, joined OCHIN seven years ago. Being part of OCHIN means the organization has access to a range of other health centers across the nation that collaborate with each other, says Kim Schwartz, CEO at Roanoke Chowan Community Center.

“We don’t have to operate in isolation; we can see what others are doing and take their ideas and bring them to scale in our organization. Everyone helps with decision-making and archiving outcomes,” she adds. With analytics, Roanoke Chowan now can know how many behavioral health patients it has and the A1C levels of diabetics, among other metrics. For example, 21 diabetic patients have lowered their A1C by 2.2 points, which is a big step, Schwartz notes.

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Being part of OCHIN also enables Roanoke Chowan to get information from other centers for research, such as developing a hypertension tool or creating risk scores for providers and patients’ care plans, and analyzing outcomes, “which deepens and broadens our scope of services,” Schwartz explains.

Describing herself as a “huge registry fan,” she wants to know the risk levels of vulnerable patients. OCHIN guides the organization’s analytics and gives them some tools, but she wants to have their own analytics team and is hoping to get additional funding to bump up analytics capability.

“We all have the need to use data,” Schwartz concludes. “We have 5 years of data and now the direction to use it. Working with OCHIN has been a hard learning curve, but it’s the best decision we ever made to be in this collaboration.”

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