COLUMBIA — Switching from paper records to an electronic medical records system in rural Missouri clinics and hospitals should be easier in the coming years thanks to a new center opening at MU.
MU has been awarded $6.8 million in federal funding to create the Missouri Health Information Technology Assistance Center. The money comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
"This is a big step forward for Missouri and health information technology," Judy Baker, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health, said during an announcement ceremony Friday at MU's Reynolds Alumni Center.
The department is investing money in electronic records "because we believe it will cut costs, eliminate paperwork and help health care providers deliver better care," according to Baker.
The center is expected to help 3,200 primary-care providers across the state better understand electronic health records, said Grant Savage, chairman of the MU School of Medicine's Department of Health Management and Informatics and principal investigator for the project. The grant earmarks $1 million for two years of outreach and education programs.
The bulk of the grant, $5.8 million, will be used to supply 1,200 providers the money to implement electronic health record systems and use them in ways deemed meaningful by Medicare and Medicaid offices. Clinics and hospitals also will be able to apply for low-interest loans through the center.
The assistance center will also help doctors select electronic health care record vendors.
"The center will help to inform and educate them about the different pros and cons of various electronic health records and help them make sure when they enter into contract, that it has all of the necessary pieces," Savage said. "We will work with providers to figure out how they want to make it work as efficiently and effectively as possible for them so they're not being bogged down by the adoption of electronic health records in the first place."
The new center is not part of Tiger Institute — the partnership between the university and Cerner, a Kansas City health records corporation — but there are obvious overlaps. The Missouri HIT Assistance Center will help doctors select record system vendors, and in some cases Cerner products might be the best option for a provider. Savage said the center will not recommend or favor any one vendor and Cerner would have to competitively bid just like any other business.
The assistance center will help physicians implement new technologies while the Tiger Institute works to create new medical technologies. Hal Williamson, vice chancellor for the MU Health system, said he hopes Tiger Institute products are successful and that doctors will want to use them, but he stressed that the assistance center will not promote or recommend them.
University administrators discussed perceived conflicts of interest with the federal Department of Health before being awarded the grant, Williamson said.
The grant money will fund two years for the assistance center, after which the university will be expected to fund 90 percent of the following two years.