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AHRQ Survey: Good Teamwork, But Transitions Need Improvement
Nearly half (45%) of hospital staff believe there is room to improve patient handoffs and transitions across units, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ) Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture: 2007 Comparative Database Report released last month. In the survey, among more than 108,000 hospital staff, three-fourths (78%) of respondents said there is a positive environment for teamwork on their units. In a related podcast, AHRQ director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., discusses care coordination problems and offers tips for providers to improve handoffs and ensure continuity of care.

CMS Offers HIT Assistance to Physicians
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a Web-based platform in April to guide physicians on the use of electronic health records and care management strategies. Doctor's Office Quality Information Technology University (DOQ-IT U) is freely available to physicians and quality improvement organizations. It's targeted particularly at solo and small group practitioners, who tend to lag behind larger physician groups in the adoption of health information technology. The site offers lessons on how to assess, plan for, and implement IT systems, and how to leverage IT to manage and improve patient care. Future offerings will include modules on the management of specific conditions, beginning with diabetes.

New York City to Distribute EHRs to Medicaid Providers
Last month, New York City announced that it would provide 1,500 local doctors with free electronic health record (EHR) software during the next two years. Recipients will include half of the city's safety net providers—those for whom 30 percent or more of their patients have Medicaid coverage or are uninsured. The project, led by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, aims to encourage doctors to use the software to monitor patients' conditions and to ensure they receive preventive care. According to city officials, no other city or region has tried such a large-scale giveaway of information technology. New York plans to spend nearly $20 million on the software system, which was created by the Massachusetts-based eClinicalWorks.

Firms to Focus on Improving Employee Health
To control the cost of providing health care benefits, many large U.S. companies plan to invest in their employees' health through education and health promotion programs, according to a recent survey of 448 major firms by the human resources consultant Hewitt Associates LLC. None of the employers said they planned to discontinue coverage, and many said they are looking beyond just shifting costs to employees to longer-term cost-containment strategies. Almost 70 percent of companies currently offer, or plan to offer, resources to help their employees better manage their health, including health risk questionnaires, decision support tools, and help lines. Only 11 percent of firms now require health plans to disclose performance information to their employees, but more than 75 percent of companies plan to require this in the future.

Study: QI Infrastructure Differs Among U.S. Cities
The quality of care for chronic conditions and potential for improvement can depend on region of the country, according to a study (Apr. 19) undertaken by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Center for Health Improvement. The study focused on 14 communities across the nation, considering attributes such as capacity for public reporting of health care performance, use of health information technology, and community leadership—all important signs of "market readiness" to improve care of chronic conditions in outpatient settings, according to the researchers. No single market excels in all areas; in order to be successful, they conclude, efforts by private and public payers to improve the quality and efficiency of care must take into account these regional variations.

AARP to Disseminate Health Care Quality and Cost Data
The AARP announced last month that it would commit at least $50 million per year—and $500 million in the next decade—toward a new initiative, called the AARP Health AID, or "Answers and Information Delivery." This initiative will develop new methods to inform the public about health care quality and costs, using partnerships with other organizations and trained volunteers to deliver such information. The service will be freely available to anyone who needs help navigating the health care system. The announcement cited in particular the unmet needs of baby boomers, who often struggle to arrange long-term care services for their aging parents.

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