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HITECH Act Overview

Back in 2009, when the U.S. was trying to pull out of the Great Recession, legislators identified healthcare, and in particular electronic healthcare record keeping, as an area with great potential for spurring long-term economic growth.

One thing the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sought to do was promote economic recovery and provide investments that would yield economic efficiency through technological advances in science and health. A portion of the bill, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or the HITECH Act, was enacted and more than $25 billion earmarked to make adoption of electronic healthcare records happen.

In explaining the act’s implications, Dr. Farzad Mostashari, former national coordinator for Health Information Technology, said, “You need information to be able to do population health management. You can serve an individual quite well; you can deliver excellent customer service if you wait for someone to walk through the door and then you go and pull their chart. What you can’t do with paper charts is ask the question, ‘Who didn’t walk in the door?'”

The HITECH Act provides standards and incentives across multiple fronts (with funding divvied up accordingly) to see this effort pushed through. Among other things, it offers substantial incentives through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement systems to hospitals and physicians who demonstrate their “meaningful” use of electronic health records.

It also funds the infrastructure for supporting and promoting how health information is exchanged and used, which includes the integration of health IT education into the training of healthcare professionals. Support is also available to enable health centers to renovate, repair and acquire health IT systems.

As the healthcare system drives forward with this technological modernization, the benefits will continue to grow. The electronic exchange of health information enhances the quality and safety of patient care in various ways. Among them:

  • Accurate information about patients is available at the point of care, complete and up to date. Additionally, ease of access to information enables care that is better coordinated and more efficient, resulting in more effective diagnoses, fewer medical errors and overall safer care.
  • Electronic records enhance the interaction and communication between patients and providers.
  • Legible, complete documentation is promoted, and with it, more accurate and streamlined coding and billing. It also yields benefits in the form of less paperwork, better patient safety and fewer testing duplications – all of which help reduce costs.
  • The privacy and security of patient data are improved.

Another intended benefit of the HITECH Act is job creation. Expansion in healthcare informatics will require people trained on a number of fronts to support the drive.

“Tracking Labor Demand with Online Job Postings: The Case of Health IT Workers and the HITECH Act,” a study conducted by researchers Aaron Schwartz, Roger Magoulas and Melinda Buntin, found a substantial uptick in health IT jobs in the few years after the act was passed, with half the job growth directly related to it.

The largest portion of jobs came through IT vendors – consultancies, IT service providers and staffing organizations – but healthcare organizations ran a close second in hiring.

The jobs themselves were divided into two categories – core IT positions and those for clinical users. The former category covered individuals who design, develop, implement, maintain, upgrade and support electronic health records – by far the area of greatest growth. The latter encompassed those who use electronic records as part of their daily jobs, such as technicians and clinicians.

Technology is driving the transformation of healthcare, and it’s not just the HITECH Act and the industry’s greater reliance on electronic records that’s causing the evolution. The technology-related demands related to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) and the 21st Century Cures Act also are playing a role. It’s making healthcare IT an area ripe with potential for jobs and careers.

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