Digital Divide Appears Between Hospitals That Treat The Rich And Poor

"Hospitals that disproportionately care for poor patients are less likely than other hospitals to have adopted health information technology," according to an October study published in Health Affairs, American Medical News reports. The economic stimulus legislation in February directed $19 billion in federal investments to help all types of hospitals adopt electronic records, but some researchers are concerned the money may not close that divide. 

"Yet there is hope that health IT adoption could help hospitals caring for the greatest number of poor patients improve quality and combat racial and ethnic disparities, said Dr. [Ashish K.] Jha, associate professor of health policy in the Harvard School of Public Health's Dept. of Health Policy and Management in Massachusetts. 'Among hospitals that had electronic records, there was no gap' in care quality, regardless of the proportion of poor patients they served, he said. 'But among hospitals that did not have electronic records, there was a big gap.' About two-thirds of hospitals are on their way to fully adopting electronic medical records systems, according to the American Hospital Assn. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes about $19 billion in Medicare and Medicaid incentives for doctors and hospitals to adopt health IT" (O'Reilly, 11/23).  

American Medical News reports separately, "Availability of government stimulus money, combined with hospitals being allowed to finance portions of physicians' electronic medical record systems, could make [electronic medical record] adoption a veritable bargain. Or the stimulus money could make hospital systems less eager to help pay for [a doctor's] EMR, figuring that government funds will instead" (Dolan, 11/23).

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