The Road to Health IT

While computers have been a part of hospitals and doctors offices for many years, only recently have providers been incentivized to take full advantage of the possibilites of a fully electronic health records system. We have long been aware that our healthcare system contained a lot of wasted costs and many people have pushed fully electronic records as a method for keeping some of these costs in check. Systems such as the Department of Veterans Affairs had used electronic health records systems successfully and shown marked improvement in quality and cost control.

The ‘Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act’’ or HITECH Act was created as one part of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly known as the stimulus).  It provides a framework for incentive payments to be made to providers for meeting certain criteria regarding the use of certified electronic health records. In other words, the goal of the program is multi-fold. Providers, as well as hospitals, nursing facilities, long term care organizations and mental health centers, are not just encouraged to use computer technology to further their practice, but to use it in a certain way to as to get maximum effectiveness. But the process to ensure that this technology is properly adopted can be time consuming, and therefore, incentives were offered to healthcare units to encourage them to make the leap.

The HITECH law officially creates a position for the National Coordinator for Healthcare IT as well as setting out specifics for the committee that will make future decisions regarding the policies.  The law set out several incentives (yearly payments to healthcare organizations through the medicare and medicaid payment structures for each provider meeting the criteria) for providers to become “Meaningful EHR users.” It does not however, delve into any specifics, regarding what goals need to be met, choosing to leave that for the committees and national coordinator.

Further Reading:

Full text of the HITECH Act: Part A and Part B

The Machinery Behind Health-Care Reform

Effect of the Transformation of the Veterans Affairs Health Care System on the Quality of Care

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