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UTHealth to serve as Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center

HOUSTON (April 7, 2010) The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced today that The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has been awarded $15.3 million to establish a Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center (REC).

Healthcare practitioners will be able to reach out to the REC at UTHealth for technical assistance, guidance and information on best practices. RECs are designed to address unique community requirements and to support and accelerate health care provider efforts to become meaningful users of electronic health records.

This investment, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will help grow the emerging health information technology (HIT) industry, which is expected to support tens of thousands of jobs ranging from nurses to technicians and trainers. UTHealth is one of 28 organizations awarded a total of more than $267 million to establish RECs.

"Our school has been a leader in interdisciplinary innovation in clinical and public health informatics, and now we will lead in the ambitious national goal of implementation of an electronic health record for every citizen," said Jack Smith, M.D., Ph.D., dean of The University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston, which is part of UTHealth.

"The RECs are a touchstone for achieving this goal and are the HIT equivalent of agricultural extension services. They will train and field the army of HIT implementation agents which will sweep through primary practice settings in Texas to bring the best HIT technology to bear," said Smith, the Gulf Coast REC's principal investigator. "They will do this based on the best evaluation and testing environments for HIT products that is available. Our testing and evaluation center will draw heavily on our outstanding faculty in clinical and public health informatics."

In Texas, the Gulf Coast REC at UTHealth is joined by three other regional extension centers at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, Texas A&M University and the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council Education and Research Foundation.

Collectively, the state RECs received $35.7 million, and there is a collaborative working group to coordinate their efforts.

"It is particularly gratifying to me to also see how our REC grant team was so instrumental in organizing all of Texas through multiple tightly integrated RECs that blanket the entire state," Smith said. "Our leadership in the Gulf Coast REC and all the proposed Texas RECs is just another example of how UTHealth is the best hope for a healthier future."

Kim Dunn, M.D., Ph.D., the executive director of the Gulf Coast REC, said the RECs will offer primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants on-site technical assistance. They will support physicians with everything from vendor selection and group purchasing to implementation, project management and best practices in privacy and security.

Dunn, assistant professor of health informatics at UTHealth, said the RECs will benefit physicians in a number of ways. "One of the most important benefits is that the RECs will help restore integrity to the doctor-patient relationship by giving physicians access to the right data at the right time," she said. "RECs will help physicians take patient data and translate that into information that's actionable. Having the resources to provide patients with the best possible care will foster trust in the physician."

The Gulf Coast REC will serve the southern half of the state. Joseph McCormick, M.D., the Gulf Coast REC southern associate director and regional dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus, said the RECs will benefit individual patients as well as entire communities.

Others from UTHealth who will be part of the Gulf Coast REC's leadership team are Operations Manager Pam Salyer, R.N., Ph.D., assistant professor of health informatics; Quality Management Director Dean Sittig, Ph.D., associate professor of health informatics; Usability and User Feedback Director Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D., the Doris L. Ross Professor and associate dean of research at the UTHealth School of Health Information Sciences; and Workforce Training Director Jim Turley, R.N., Ph.D., associate professor of health informatics.


Contact: Meredith Raine
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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