- More than a thousand primary care and safety net providers in forty-one states and Puerto Rico will benefit from $36 million in health IT development funding doled out by the Department of Health and Human Services this month.
The grants will help fifty of the nation’s Health Center Controlled Networks (HCCNs) implement advanced health information technologies to address population health management needs and big data analytics projects.
The funding will also support participating healthcare providers as they continue to work towards meeting the requirements of the EHR Incentive Programs.
“These awards demonstrate our continued focus on advancing health center quality and accountability across all health centers by supporting the adoption of Health Information Technology,” said Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Acting Administrator Jim Macrae.
The HRSA helps to maintain a network of health centers that primarily serve safety net patients, and collect fees adjusted on the basis of the patient’s ability to pay.
Federal funds offset the difference in reimbursements in order to cover the costs of organizational operations and clinical services. Grant funding makes up approximately 18 percent of these organizations’ operating budgets.
Close to 1400 health centers with 9800 service delivery sites are part of the networks, and nearly 1 in 14 US patients rely on HRSA-funded providers for their medical care, including 10 percent of the nation’s children and more than 1.1 million homeless citizens.
Approximately 23 million patients receive care from these providers on a regular basis. More than 170,000 staff members support the organizations across the country.
The Health Center Controlled Networks act as centralized hubs for these providers, explained HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, fostering communication and allowing individual organizations to share best practices and technologies.
“Health Center Controlled Networks are a key tool in providing quality primary care to medically underserved communities,” she said. “By using these networks, individual health centers can work together to share resources, leverage buying power, and improve access to health information technology, leading to a better care experience for vulnerable populations.”
The awards range from $500,000 to $1.5 million, with OCHIN, Inc. of Portland, Oregon receiving the highest amount of funding.
OCHIN, Inc., like many of the organizations on the list, has been actively pursuing the health IT tools and competencies required to address complicated population health management problems, including the integration of socioeconomic data into electronic health records in order to understand the “vital signs” of a community.
In an editorial published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (JABFM) last month, OCHIN researcher Jennifer E. DeVoe, MD, was among a team of authors to urge the vendor community to prioritize the collection and use of socioeconomic data.
“We have long known that place matters to personal and population health,” the article stated. “Neighborhood-level social determinants of health have begun to shape local public health and policy interventions. It is now time for we, as family physicians, to harness the power of community vital signs to improve the health of our patients and our communities.”
“There is a real need for research to understand the interplay of individual and neighborhood characteristics, and which of each are most important for understanding health outcomes.”
Other Health Center Networks receiving a million dollars or more from the funding opportunity include the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Michigan Primary Care Association, Louisiana Primary Care Association Inc., and the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County.
The smaller grants were awarded to networks with fewer than twenty provider members, in regions such as Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, New Mexico, and South Carolina.
California has received the most funding, with a total of $3.25 million to support 89 health centers across five of its community health networks. Florida has received $1.5 million in grant funds, while Texas follows close behind with just over $1 million.