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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 22, 2004

UI Center Receives $1.3 Million To Study Rural Health Information Technology

The Center for Health Policy and Research in the University of Iowa College of Public Health has received a three-year, $1.3 million grant to study the value and effectiveness of health information technology (HIT) interventions for improving the quality and safety of care delivered in rural hospitals.

The grant, given by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), is part of $139 million in funding that AHRQ recently awarded to communities, hospitals, providers, health care systems and academic institutions in 38 states to investigate how information technology can best be used to improve patient safety and quality of care. The Iowa study is led by principal investigator Marcia M. Ward, Ph.D., associate professor in the UI Department of Health Management and Policy.

While previous research on certain HIT interventions has shown benefits in urban settings, Ward notes that serious questions arise about whether HIT applications, such as electronic medical records and computerized physician order entry, can produce the desired benefits in terms of increased quality and patient safety in rural hospitals.

"Rural hospitals frequently lack the financial, technological and human resources to make expensive information technology investments," Ward said. "In addition, to date there has been little systematic study of whether the key quality and patient safety issues facing rural hospitals are the same as those facing their urban counterparts. With limited resources, it would be a waste for rural hospitals to invest in expensive information technology that did not enhance quality and patient safety."

Ward adds that with tight budgets, expensive investments in one area could actually decrease quality in other areas because fewer resources would then be available to those areas. "Ultimately, our goal is to create toolkits to help administrators of rural hospitals make decisions on what HIT implementations best fit their particular health care environment," she said.

Co-investigators from the UI Department of Health Management and Policy include James Bahensky, associate professor; Robert Ohsfeldt, Ph.D., professor; Thomas Vaughn, Ph.D., associate professor; and Douglas Wakefield, Ph.D., professor and head. Other UI co-investigators include William Clarke, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics; Arthur Hartz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of family medicine; and Paul James, M.D., associate professor of family medicine. Co-investigator Bonnie Wakefield, Ph.D., is associate chief of nursing research at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Iowa City, Iowa.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4157 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kate Gleeson, 319-384-4277,