To a small physician practice in rural Michigan, the world of electronic health records (EHR) can be daunting. Doctors are experts on the health of their patients and usually not experts in hardware configuration, software contract negotiations and redesigning practice workflows to capitalize on technology. 

Altarum Institute’s Michigan Center for Effective IT Adoption (M-CEITA), funded with grants from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT and The Kresge Foundation, makes EHRs accessible to primary care physicians around the state by helping those offices select, adopt and implement EHR systems. M-CEITA staff provide physician practices with extensive resources to evaluate options and the technical expertise to ‘effectively’ modernize offices. In addition to direct benefits to providers and their patients, this effort will also bring up to $200 million in federal incentive payments to Michigan providers.

M-CEITA is partnering with many Federally Qualified Health Care providers, rural practices and critical access hospitals over the next 4 years to guide them to “meaningful use” of EHRs. Meaningful use opens up federal incentive payments to practices and is based on the use of certified technology and the electronic exchange of patient records. Health Specialists of Lenawee, in rural Tecumseh, Michigan, was the first to reach that standard. Eventually more than 3,700 providers will reach meaningful use through M-CEITA.

Meaningfully using an EHR means more time for doctors to focus on their patients. “We’re working with small community doctors that are being squeezed from every direction,” says Matt Monroe, a health analyst at Altarum. “Effectively using an EHR reduces medical errors and enhances clinical decision-making”. It can also help underserved patients navigate the health care system.  Information brings better diagnoses and improved population-based care, often keeping patients from needing to use the costly emergency room.

The Kresge Foundation contributed $1 million to the project as part of the Foundation’s efforts to increase access to health care and improve the quality of health care services for low-income and vulnerable populations. “This program would not have been possible without the strong support of Kresge,” says Dan Armijo, program director. Kresge’s funding was able to enhance the M-CEITA program by adding:

  • The ability to provide service to offices that fall through the cracks in the federal program;
  • The resources to thoroughly develop the program offerings, negotiate with vendors and recruit unaffiliated practices without access to technical resources; and
  • The ability to offer reduced or waived fees for organizations providing care in underserved rural or urban areas.

The Health Department of Ionia County, Michigan, a rural county southeast of Grand Rapids, directly benefited from Kresge’s generosity. The county health department doesn’t have its own doctor, having to share one with a neighboring county. Because of this, they did not qualify for support from the federal program. Kresge funding allowed M-CEITA to provide support that benefits Ionia’s patients and families. The county health department is one of 238 sites working with primarily underserved populations.

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