The current project will inform policy efforts to encourage the implementation of IT to achieve efficiency and quality of care objectives. Federally sponsored health centers form a key part of the nation’s health care “safety net”, delivering primary care medical services to vulnerable populations. Special data and administrative requirements, including tracking and reporting on their patient populations, maintaining patient-specific data, and supporting disease registries for vulnerable populations, make health centers a prime target for implementing health IT applications. Over the past several years many health centers have chosen to band together to form networks that provide access to these IT applications, business services and technical support. Network development has also been spurred by systems-related grant programs, many of which are funded by the Bureau of Primary Health Care (BPHC), the Agency that provides base funding for the health centers themselves.
Health centers have quickly caught on to technology’s potential for improving efficiency and quality of care. In addition to the factors described above, external trends — such as the increasing rate of IT investment in health care overall and the Bush Administration’s health IT initiatives — have contributed to the fast growth in health centers’ adoption of IT. Electronic Health Record (EHR) adoption has been especially noteworthy. Multiple health centers in three of the seven case studies had implemented an EHR between the start of our study in 2002 and completion of our last site visit in 2004. Findings presented here will assist policy makers as they seek to build on early IT adoption among health centers and other providers.