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Vangent prepares to tap in to on increased federal spending on health IT

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, May 10, 2010; 8

As a resident and then a fellow at George Washington University Hospital, Geeta Nayyar, a rheumatologist, saw firsthand the pitfalls and the payoffs of implementing technology to support health care.

During her time there -- from 2003 to 2008 -- the hospital opted to move to paperless record-keeping. For Nayyar, who had sometimes struggled to help her patients when she was on call because she lacked access to their records, the decision made sense. But other doctors -- some unable to type well -- didn't find the transition as smooth.

Nayyar expects her experience as a practicing physician to serve her well as the newest member of a five-person health strategy group established by Arlington-based Vangent. The group is intended to help the company position itself for a surge of federal spending on health information technology.

Vangent is likely to face stiff competition for those dollars, but company officials say they expect the firm's reputation as a health-related services provider to serve it well as it bids on contracts. The company -- which manages the federal student financial aid Web site and information center and processed many of the vouchers used in the federal "Cash for Clunkers" car-buying incentive program, among other efforts -- first increased its focus on health care about seven years ago, said Mac Curtis, president and chief executive.

Two years later, the health sector of its business had overtaken its civil, defense and national security work -- previously its largest unit. Now, health-care services, including operating the Medicare information and assistance program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's information line, make up 51 percent of Vangent's business.

Vangent expects that sector to continue to expand rapidly, Curtis said.

Craig Miller, the group's head and a veteran of Vangent's IT health initiatives, said the company has thus far named himself and Nayyar to the new health strategy team. Nayyar will serve as principal medical officer, and the firm plans to hire three more specialists: in informatics, or the study of electronic health information; clinical measurement, meaning the quality of care and ways to measure it; and public health analytics, which uses data to identify trends.

Kerry Weems, former acting director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who now heads Vangent's health solutions unit, said the new strategy group should be fully staffed by the end of June.

As Vangent is ramping up, the federal government is promising billions more for health information technology. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the economic recovery legislation has directed that health IT be expanded by 2014 as part of an effort to modernize the health-care system.

Done right, health IT programs such as electronic health records would ensure an interoperable health-care system, said Harry B. Rhodes, director of practice leadership at the American Health Information Management Association.

"It's that plug-and-play ability I think has been missing" from health IT and electronic health records systems, he said.

Despite joining Vangent's strategy group, Nayyar said she will continue to practice medicine on Mondays.

"It's really important to maintain that clinical perspective and that one-on-one patient care," she said. "Frankly, it helps to keep me relevant when I think about opportunities that are out there to help address some of the problems in the system today."

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