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Health Information Technology

Overview

The increased use of information technology (IT) has been expected to reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of patient care for more than a decade. For example, anticipated cost savings from information technology was a factor in federal efforts to impose uniformity in electronic transactions through the “administrative simplification” provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Similarly, many people expect that the use of IT in patient care—particularly by making electronic health records easily available to all healthcare providers—also will reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of care.

Policy

Unfortunately, many segments of the healthcare industry directly involved with patient care lag far behind other industries in the use of IT. Some healthcare providers still use paper-based medical record storage and retrieval, communicate with labs and pharmacies by telephone or fax rather than e-mail, and do not use electronic systems to assist in clinical decision making. The lower level of IT being utilized in patient care adversely affects costs and the quality of care.

Limited adoption of IT by providers may be due to aspects of healthcare that present unique challenges to the use of IT, including: • the large number of physicians in solo or small group practices with very limited administrative support for IT and related practice changes; • the lack of uniformity and interoperability of IT systems from different vendors; • antitrust and other legal concerns with respect to joint IT solutions; and • privacy and security concerns.

Excerpt from Kristen Rosati and Marilyn Lamar, eds. The Quest for Interoperable Electronic Health Records: A Guide to Legal Issues in Establishing Health Information Networks (American Health Lawyers Association 2006).

Authority

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Pub. L. No. 111-5. A portion of the ARRA created the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act)—found at ARRA Division A, Title XIII and Division B, Title IV (See ARRA Division A, Title XIII—Health Information Technology, § 13001 (“This title (and title IV of division B) may be cited as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act or the HITECH Act)—representing a truly seismic shift in the health information technology (HIT) world. The HITECH Act, which authorizes around $36 billion in investment in HIT and health information exchange (HIE), has the potential to spur real change in the healthcare industry, ushering in new incentives to adopt HIT and establish HIE to improve the quality and efficiency of, and decrease the cost of healthcare.

Excerpt from Kristen B. Rosati and Edward F. Shay, eds., HIT in a HITECH World: An Analysis of the HITECH Act (American Health Lawyers Association Health Information and Technology Practice Group 2009).