(COLLEGE STATION, TX) – The Texas A&M Health Science Center Rural and Community Health Institute recently was awarded management of a $1.6 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to provide electronic connectivity for two communities’ health care systems.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant is directed by Theresa Cruz, director of Rural Health in the Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA). ORCA, which has subcontracted with HSC-RCHI to manage the project, is a state agency created in 2001 by the 77th Texas Legislature to ensure a continuing focus on rural issues, monitor governmental actions affecting rural Texans, research problems and recommend solutions, and coordinate rural programs among state agencies.

“We will implement electronic connectivity among all the health care facilities and providers in the Texas towns of Wellington and Friona to provide secure, confidential patient information.” said Janine C. Edwards, Ph.D., professor and staff member in the HSC-RCHI who was instrumental in the development of the grant proposal. “These two rural communities in North Texas will also have access to radiology consultation via telemedicine to a hospital in Amarillo affiliated with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. The project is scheduled to be completed in 18 months under the guidance of an advisory board.”

Kathleen Meckler, R.N., M.S., interim director of HSC-RCHI, will manage the project.

Texas communities are making strides to improve patient safety and quality of care using standardized measures and health information technology. However, due to the lack of measurable patient outcomes, rural hospitals find it difficult to demonstrate quality and safety, or to make improvement efforts. These communities realize that without such efforts, their hospitals and clinics are at risk and have the potential to close, leaving thousands of Texas residents without primary care.

To overcome this challenge, the HSC-RCHI project will implement health information technology, which facilitates rapid and secure transmission of patient information among providers and analysis of data for improvement in patient care. Activities focus on the selection and implementation of a health information system that will connect all health care providers (hospital, doctors, pharmacy, nursing home, home health care, etc.) in the communities and with the tertiary care center in the region.

According to Dr. Edwards, this project is significant because it is a demonstration project designed to establish the groundwork for the other 186 rural communities in Texas that have small hospitals and various health care providers to implement community health information technology for patient safety and quality improvement.

Separately, HSC-RCHI has received a $15,000 grant to conduct an ORCA Flex survey. This annual evaluation analyzes the FLEX program by ORCA to determine the impact on Critical Access Hospitals and the rural communities in Texas that they serve. HSC-RCHI has performed such a survey for the past three years.

Authorized in June 2003, HSC-RCHI strives to partner with rural and community health facilities, clinics and physicians to provide a variety of educational programs, clinical outcomes, quality and patient safety services, benchmarking health care delivery services, health care delivery assessments, database management and analysis, research, medical education, graduate medical education and policy research that may be difficult for small or rural facilities to accomplish alone.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its six components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, and the School of Rural Public Health.

— Marketing & Communications