Center for Rural Health receives $1.6 million for health information technology

The Center for Rural Health at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences has received a $1.6 million federal grant to help small, rural hospitals implement electronic medical records systems.

The grant will be used to form a regional health information technology (HIT) network. The Center for Rural Health is partnering with the North Region Health Alliance, a 20-member health cooperative representing primarily rural hospitals in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota to form the network.

The overall project goal is to implement electronic medical records that are usable by all the participating facilities. During the 18-month project, the group will implement electronic medical records beginning with one small, rural hospital. Using what is learned from that implementation, electronic medical records will be added to two more rural hospitals.

Electronic medical records are a digital form of medical record and are an efficient tool for transferring information between health care providers, helping to avoid medical errors and improving accuracy and security of medical records.

“We expect to see electronic medical records providing new opportunities to improve patient care and clinical staff productivity,” explained Marlene Miller, the project’s co-director at the Center for Rural Health,

A federally supported study of Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) found that only 20 percent of CAHs nationally had some form of electronic medical records. In North Dakota, while 68 percent of CAHs budget for HIT, only 16 percent have a formal HIT plan and only 11 percent used electronic medical records.

“It is vital that we broaden the use of high-tech information systems to improve the quality and efficiency of health care,” said North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad. “And North Dakota is leading the way with the development of the HIT network. This is an investment that will save both money and lives.”

“Electronic medical records are an expensive but important investment for hospitals,” said Lynette Dickson, the project’s co-director at the Center for Rural Health. “We’re excited that we were successful in competing to bring a grant of this size to North Dakota to provide these hospitals a significant opportunity to test the benefits of health information exchange.”

The federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration Office of Rural Health Policy funds the competitive grant. During his 2004 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush set the goal of most Americans having electronic medical records by 2014. This project will help rural hospitals meet that goal.
-- Amanda Scurry, Communication Coordinator, Center for Rural Health,, 701-777-0871