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Medical homes and meaningful use -- one and the same?

Health information technology has a role to play in establishing and maintaining the medical home model, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is exploring what that role might be.

The agency has created the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) resource center , which it will use as a launch pad for its research on primary care and medical home models. The website is a one-stop-shopping resource for scientists and professionals seeking information on transforming care.

The site hosts AHRQ-commissioned research and a citation database that can be searched for more medical home studies. Another link goes to a list of other sites the agency believes would be helpful in researching the topic.

Among the AHRQ’s own reports on the website is a white paper analyzing the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and the ways the federal government’s support for electronic health record (EHR) adoption also could extend to the medical home model. In the white paper, the agency wrote that comprehensive EHRs — which are touted in the 2009 stimulus law as the method through which providers can become meaningful users of health IT — could function in medical homes as well.

“Although providers could implement the PCMH model without health IT, this technology can be a strong facilitator to the establishment of this model of care, as demonstrated by growing evidence of the impacts of health IT on quality of care,” the AHRQ wrote. “However, it remains unclear how health IT will contribute in practice to enabling operation as a medical home.”

But the steps the AHRQ has laid out — from the ways health IT in medical homes would facilitate the collection and analysis of patient data and monitor patient treatment and outcomes, to fostering information exchange among providers — sound remarkably similar to the goals of the meaningful use incentive program. That point is not lost on the agency.

“The health reform legislation does not include any direct action related to the medical home principle of whole-person orientation,” the AHRQ wrote. “However, if well implemented, the same HITECH programs described above under team-based care could support a whole-person orientation.”

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Medical homes face a public awareness problem. The solution? Scenarios that work.