National HIT Collaborative for the Underserved

Inadequate access to healthcare technology is one contributing factor to the disparities in health outcomes and healthcare access experienced by many communities with large racial and ethnic minority populations.

Inadequate access to healthcare technology is one contributing factor to the disparities in health outcomes and healthcare access experienced by many communities with large racial and ethnic minority populations.

To address this, the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved—organized by the HHS Office of Minority Health; the Health Information and Management Systems Society; the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc., and IT solutions and services provider Apptis, Inc.—was created to “ensure that underserved populations are included as health information technologies are developed and deployed.”

The Collaborative’s website states that the group “aims to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities experienced by medically underserved areas and populations through the use of advances in health IT. It will incorporate experience from both the public and private sectors to improve the health of communities and populations that have historically had the worst health outcomes and the least access to care.” The group will “work to ensure that Federal, state, local and private efforts to develop and coordinate advances in technology in the health arena include funding, programs and initiatives for underserved communities.”

The Collaborative was convened earlier this summer in Washington, DC, announcing the formation of three workgroups, which will report and publish findings at the HIMSS annual conference in Chicago in April 2009:

Advocacy and Policy This group will assess current state and federal health IT legislative and regulatory proposals targeted at underserved and rural populations and identify components of what the Collaborative calls “model health IT legislation” designed to address the needs of underserved populations (the group will also propose “legislative language that could be included in model legislation”).

Workforce Training and Development — This group will “work with clinical staff to increase their capacity, knowledge and utilization of Health IT tools and technologies and ways to facilitate quick adoption of Health IT tools by clinical and professional staff to achieve quality improvement and cost savings.”

Funding — In many ways, this is perhaps the most important of the three workgroups, given the history of promising and/or successful programs designed to address healthcare disparities in minority and other underserved populations being forced to curtail activities due to lack of funding. This group will act as a “clearinghouse” for funding opportunities available from industry and government and develop “innovative ways for the private sector to invest and support health IT projects and programs.”

Recognizing the need for greater sharing of information and best practices among the often fragmented local, state, and national projects and initiatives designed to address health disparities in low-income, racial/ethnic minority populations and other underserved populations, the Collaborative’s stated goals and mission stress the importance of coordinating efforts. Group members will compile “models, strategies, practices and/or activities with proven effectiveness in informing and engaging the underserved in the use of health IT for health self-management and empowerment.” The Collaborative will also make recommendations for a “structural framework to maintain an emphasis on Health IT adoption in underserved communities, with such functions as providing for information exchange; conducting pilot programs; providing technical assistance and publication of community guidance documents.”

You can find additional background information about the Collaborative, current trends in US health disparities, partnership opportunities, and more at the Collaborative website linked above.

Additional Resources

Video and transcript of the Collaborative’s launch meeting, featuring remarks from HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Collaborative director Garth Graham, MD, MPH; Ruth Perot, PhD, SHIRE CEO and Executive Director; M. Christopher Gibbons, MD, MPH, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute; and Cesar Palacios, MD, MPH, Executive Director of the Proyecto Salud Clinic.