The NHIT Collaborative was established in June 2008 as a public/private/community partnership with the purpose of supporting the full engagement of HIT in underserved populations, with an emphasis on communities of color.
To ensure that our nation’s underserved populations are not left behind as health information technologies are developed and employed, four entities came together as conveners and established the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT). These organizations are: the Department of Health and Human Services/ Office of Minority Health (HHS/OMH); the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Foundation’s Institute for e-health Policy; Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc. (SHIRE), and Apptis, Inc. Since then, these initial conveners have been joined by the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU), the eHealth Initiative, and the Health Policy Institute Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In addition, the NHIT has mounted a long term campaign to include a consortium of Federal agencies and other key private sector and community-based stakeholders.
As a long-range goal, participants will work jointly to propose solutions to improve the quality of care, increase access to care and care-related service, and reduce the cost of care among the underserved so that no community is left behind.
Why the Need for HIT for the Underserved?
Over three decades, health care in the United States has transitioned from a care delivery model where a single medical practitioner served as the sole source of care to a care delivery model where large-scale institutions provide and pay for care.
The complexity exhibited by our current care delivery model requires a myriad of Federal and state laws and regulations that are difficult to understand and navigate for large payers and providers.
Health disparate and underserved populations are further impacted as they rarely have the resources or tools to effectively understand and navigate the mix of federal, state, and local entities that are engaged in to providing health care for these groups.
In addition, significant disparities exist in our health care system with respect to such key areas as insurance coverage, access, quality of treatment, and outcomes. These disparities occur most frequently among racial/ethnic minorities and other medically underserved communities. Despite efforts to reform health care systems through structure, process, and technology interventions, health disparities persist and gaps appear to be widening.
Numerous efforts to reform our nation’s health care system are being proposed and tested, yet little attention is being devoted to underserved communities. Reform efforts targeted toward disparities need to take advantage of advances in health information technology and best practices developed in states, counties and local communities in order to facilitate wholesale improvements and significantly increase access to care.
Such efforts, and others yet to be undertaken, will help provide the requisite tools and technologies if accompanied by: culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach and educational initiatives; advocacy and public policy strategies; workforce development and training ventures; and concrete options for funding and sustainability. Such a comprehensive approach will be required to bring underserved populations into our national HIT framework, thus ensuring that the underserved will not be left behind. This need has never been more pressing.
The Need is Urgent
The urgency of addressing the needs of underserved populations cannot be overstated. The fragmented nature of our nation’s health system has imposed special burdens on the most vulnerable areas and populations, already disadvantaged by socio-economic, historical, and other societal barriers.
If current trends in health disparities are not reversed, by 2050 nearly one in two Americans will be persons of color with higher levels of chronic diseases, shorter life spans, less health insurance, and generally poorer health. (IOM 2003) (Alliance for Health Reform 2006).