The University of South Alabama has been awarded a $7.5 million grant to lead Alabama in a nationwide effort to improve health care through electronic health record systems.
The competitive grant awarded to the Center for Strategic Health Innovation in USA's College of Medicine is one of the largest in the University's history. It will help primary care providers in Alabama transition to electronic health record systems as part of a national initiative to improve health care efficiency and patient outcomes.
USA is one of 60 nonprofit organizations selected nationwide by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to receive the Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center award. The grant is administered through the HHS's Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the four-year grant establishes the Alabama Regional Extension Center, or ALREC, a consortium of partners led by USA that includes the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, Alabama Medicaid Agency, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Auburn University, Alabama Primary Healthcare Association, Childersburg Area Rural Health Network, and the JHD Group.
According to the grant's principal investigator, Dr. Dan Roach, ALREC aims to improve the quality of health care in the state by providing primary care physicians and other health care practitioners with community-based technical assistance, guidance and information on best practices as the nation makes the switch to an electronic health records system.
"This new Regional Extension Center at USA will help facilitate the process of moving health care providers away from the use of paper patient records to electronic records, which enables physicians to have more rapid access to patient information and ultimately improve the quality of patient care," said Roach, who is also a physician and director of medical informatics in the Center for Strategic Health Innovation.
The grant is part of a $2 billion effort by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to achieve what the HHS describes as "widespread, meaningful use of health information technology." The Regional Extension Center, or REC, grants are part of an overall blueprint by HHS to move virtually all health care providers to an electronic age.
Working to help the nation achieve this goal, ALREC will collaborate with other RECs throughout the United States to provide outreach and support services to at least 100,000 priority primary care providers over the next two years.
The focus of the new centers is to familiarize physicians with the opportunity to move from paper to digital records, assist physicians in the selection of the appropriate electronic health record for their practices, and provide the training and support for them to use that electronic health record in a way that directly benefits patient care.
"The University of South Alabama has long been committed to improving the health of our citizens by educating physicians and health care professionals, conducting medical research and treating patients through our hospitals and physician practice, so it is gratifying that USA is now able to play a lead role in the national initiative toward better management of medical records, which will enhance health care and enable countless people to live longer, healthier lives," said USA President Gordon Moulton.
The new grant fits well with one of the Center for Strategic Health Innovation's principal missions, which is to lead innovation and research into patient-centric health care technologies.
Dr. Samuel Strada, dean of USA's College of Medicine, said the REC award signals the College of Medicine's growing influence both regionally and nationally.
"This award is wonderful recognition of the creative endeavors of our Center for Strategic Health Innovation to use emerging health technologies to improve the quality, cost, care, and access to health care within our state and beyond."
The HHS announced the REC designations in two rounds this year, with 32 awards announced in February and 28 this week. USA was among the second group of grantees to receive the competitive federal award.
For additional information about the Health Information Technology Regional Extension Centers, visit http://HealthIT.hhs.gov/programs/REC/.