HITECH Turns Five

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By Dr. Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

This week marks a major milestone in our journey towards adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records. As we work toward the secure, private and meaningful exchange of interoperable health information across the continuum of care, the law that made much of this possible turns five. We are celebrating the five-year anniversary of the passage of the Health Information Technology and Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) as part of the American Recovery and Revitalization Act.

As the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) comes up on its own big milestone (we turn 10 this year), it’s a good time to take stock of the hard work undertaken to improve health, healthcare and to control costs using health IT. In the years since HITECH, our nation’s health professionals, patients and hospitals have made strong progress adopting and meaningfully using health IT.

As of December, 83 percent of the nation’s eligible professionals and 94 percent of eligible hospitals have signed up for the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records Incentive Programs – a program that was created in HITECH. That translates into slightly more than 435,000 professionals and 4,690 hospitals that are registered for the programs. Moreover, over 335,000 professionals and 4,400 hospitals have received incentive payments for adopting certified EHRs or demonstrating Meaningful Use.

In a recent blog post that sums up the results of two recent surveys, there was more good news:

  • Nearly 80 percent of office-based physicians used some type of electronic health record system, an increase of 60 percentage points since 2001 and nearly double the percent in 2008 (42 percent), which was a year before HITECH became law.
  • About half of office-based physicians surveyed said they use a system that qualifies as a “basic system,” up from just 11 percent in 2006.
  • Almost 70 percent of office-based physicians noted their intent to participate in the EHR incentive program.

We certainly are only just beginning. The widespread adoption of electronic health records means that we have new challenges in areas like usability, interoperability and patient access to their data. We are actively working on these challenges.

Nonetheless, we are moving closer to seeing the promise of health IT in improving the health and well being of American patients. A recent systematic literature review documented that Meaningful Use functionalities have predominantly positive effects on quality, safety, and efficiency outcomes.

There is much more that we’ve done with the HITECH resources, including standing up – and learning from – the Beacon Communities, Regional Extension Centers and state Health Information Exchanges. Without their efforts, we would be nowhere near the adoption rates we see now.

As we look ahead, ONC will continue to serve as the convener and central leader for the critical agenda of health IT advancement and innovation in the nation. Our aim is to improve health and health care for all Americans through the use of information and technology. We are on track to make meaningful advancements in health, health care and controlling costs in our second decade, if the latest data are any guide.

We at ONC are continuing to lean in and take the lead by working closely with everyone to develop the sort of health information capture and sharing across the care continuum that will transform the nation’s health care system and ultimately improve the public’s health.

We look forward to hearing from you about how we are doing and to working with you in the years to come.

This article was originally published on the ONC’s Health IT Buzz and is republished here with permission.