UH Hilo College of Pharmacy awarded $16 million for health care pilot project

May 4, 2010

A consortium led by the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy to use health information technology to provide better health care to Big Island residents has been awarded $16,091,390.

Vice President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary announced the award at a May 4 press conference in Washington D.C. Hawaiʻi County is one of 15 communities across the nation chosen to serve as pilot communities to develop wide-scale use of electronic medical records through the Beacon Communities program.

The funds were awarded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Given the geography of the Big Island, getting in to see a health care professional can be difficult for some residents,” said Senator Daniel K. Inouye. “In order to maximize this precious time with patients, health care professionals need immediate access to up-to-date information in order to properly diagnose and treat the patient. Integrating our vast network of public and private health care professionals in Hawaiʻi is vital to ensuring that patients receive the highest quality of care. Health information helps ensure that patients are receiving care that accounts for every aspect of their medical history.”

The UH Hilo College of Pharmacy is the lead applicant organization for the grant from the Hawai’i County Beacon Community Consortium, a group of educators, health care providers and insurers and other community members. The group was formed to strengthen and use health information technology to continuously improve healthcare quality, cost-efficiency, and population health in Hawaiʻi County.

"This has put a broad spotlight on the need to improve health care in rural areas where there are known health professional shortages," said UH President M.R.C. Greenwood. "This project will improve healthcare services and also provide a stimulus for job creation and economic renewal both locally and nationally, and we are very proud that the University of Hawaiʻi can contribute to this effort."

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng said she is pleased to join with so many community partners in this important effort to improve health care on the island.

“Many of our island’s dedicated medical leaders are coming together to advance this goal and I truly believe that, when we all work together, great things can happen," Tseng said. "This group will maximize the potential of information technology to lower the cost and enhance the quality of care for our island.”

The effort will concentrate on the implementation of a region-wide Health Information Exchange and Patient Health Record solution. The system will use secure, internet-based care coordination and tele-monitoring tools to increase access to specialty care for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, the White House announcement said.

“This award is particularly monumental for bringing in money to the State and the significant improvement in serving the health care needs of patients in Hawai’i,” said John M. Pezzuto, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “We’re pleased that the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy could take a leading role in this initiative that demonstrates the strength of partnerships throughout the State at all levels.”

Other grant recipients include Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic and Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Clinic, both considered national models for high-quality, cost-efficient health care, as well as other newer community-based consortiums from around the country.

Karen Pellegrin, director of strategic planning for the College of Pharmacy and principle investigator for the grant, said the project would not be possible without tremendous effort and staff time from businesses in the community such as KTA and T&T Electric, as well as members of the consortium, whose Board members include: HMSA; Hilo Medical Center; East Hawaiʻi IPA; North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital; North Hawaiʻi Outcomes Project; Kona Community Hospital; West Hawaiʻi Community Health Center; Bay Clinic; Hamakua Health Center; Hui Malama Ola Na `Oiwi; Hawaiʻi Health Information Exchange; Hawaiʻi Island Healthcare Alliance; and Hawaiʻi County Mayor Billy Kenoi.

“Given an extraordinary level of community engagement and stakeholder leadership at the highest levels, the College of Pharmacy is honored to work alongside these other community leaders,” Pellegrin said. “Our goals are to improve prevention of disease, improve access to appropriate care, and reduce health disparities for Hawaiʻi Island residents.”

The grant comes through the Obama administration’s “Beacon Communities” program, funded through last year’s federal stimulus bill.

See more news from 2010.