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From the GMR: HITECH Grants Announced

HITECH Priority Grants Program Rollout
News on Next Steps Toward Nationwide Health Information Exchange

A Message from Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

Today's announcement from the White House regarding the rollout of the first two in a series of HITECH priority grant programs represents a critical step forward in laying the groundwork for meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs). These programs will offer valuable help to health care providers in the selection and incorporation of EHRs into clinical practice, and for States and their designates to assure that statewide information exchange is developed with an eye toward nationwide connectivity across the health care system.

It's no coincidence that these two grant programs are leading the way. Key to the successful adoption and meaningful use of EHRs is the assurance that providers have the help and guidance they need to select, implement and maintain a certified EHR system. In addition, we need the various and often disparate local, statewide and regional systems to work together, regardless of location and differing state and federal standards or policies, to enhance patient care.

Toward that end, the first grant program, the Health Information Technology Extension Program, will fund dozens of Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers across the country. The regional extension centers will offer hospitals and clinicians hands-on technical assistance to support meaningful use of certified EHR systems. These modern health IT centers could be considered as somewhat akin to the agricultural extension centers Congress set up early in the 20th century, which helped to support vast improvements in the efficiency, quality and productivity of the agricultural sector.

We hope this 21st century health IT extension program will have a similarly profound effect in helping health care providers through a major transition in our nation's health system, ultimately improving the quality, efficiency, reliability, availability and equity of care for every American.

A national Health Information Technology Research Center (HITRC) will also be created. The HITRC will help the regional centers collaborate with each other, and it will serve as a national clearinghouse to identify and share best practices and experiences so that providers can learn from what others have gone through as they've put such systems in place.

The second grant program will help States and Qualified State Designated Entities (SDEs) to develop or align the necessary policies, procedures and network systems to assist electronic information exchange within and across states, and ultimately throughout the health care system. A key to this program's overall success will be technical, legal and financial support for information exchanges across health care providers.

Together, the grants will offer much-needed local and regional assistance and technical support to providers while enabling coordination and alignment within and among states, ultimately allowing information to follow patients anywhere within the health care system. They are a clear sign that the Administration is delivering on its promise to transform care.

As we push hard to make EHRs available to all Americans, and the use of electronic health information part of an expected standard of care, we also are intensely focused on ensuring the privacy and security of patient records. If we want to achieve nationwide use of EHRs, patients first and foremost must be assured and have confidence that their electronic personal health information is private, secure and safe. The technology to secure this information exists, and is constantly improving through advances in encryption and de-identification of data. The protection of all health information is absolutely central to all of our efforts in support of electronic health information exchange.

To learn more about the HITECH priority grants program and application requirements, please visit our website, http://healthit.hhs.gov/HITECHgrants. For other health it information, please visit http://healthit.hhs.gov.

I look forward to providing you with more updates on our progress, and to continued interactions with all the communities that have so much to gain from this profound transformation.

Sincerely,

David Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P.
National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

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