The HITECH Act: gearing towards interoperable electronic health record system

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act or “HITECH Act”, is one of the measures under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) that seeks to modernize the United States of America’s health care delivery system. The HITECH Act, passed by the US Congress and signed into law on February 2009 by President Barrack Obama, supports the effective use of electronic health records (EHR). The effort was led by the CMS or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. The HITECH allocates $19 Billion to hospitals and physicians who show “meaningful use” of electronic health records.

Under HITECH, each American’s health information will be computerized by the end of the year 2014. Health information is defined as “the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of an individual.” The HITECH proposes the “meaningful use” of electronic health records across the United States health care delivery system.

“Meaningful Use” is defined as the use of electronic health record technology in a meaningful way ensuring that it is connected in a manner that provides for the exchange of information to improve the quality and standards of care. The concept is founded on 5 pillars of health outcomes enumerated as follows:

1. Improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities
2. Engage patients and their families in the management of their health
3. Improve coordination
4. Improve public health
5. Ensure adequate privacy and security protection for personal health information

The Act provides two basic categories. The first section of the legislation delineates the changes to the Health Information Portability and Protection Act (HIPPA). Under the HITECH Act, violations of HIPPA guidelines will result in the imposition of mandatory fine rather than simple investigation approach. The second section of the Act delineates the incentives for developing and deploying fully integrated and functional Electronic Health Record system.

The rationale for said legislation stems from previous studies suggesting that the implementation of a fully integrated electronic health record would result in saving both money and human lives. Computerized order entries by physicians have shown to eliminate thousands of medical errors. This then translates into significant financial savings. Aside from this, the use of electronic health records will allow full longitudinal record of patient care.

With this health care delivery advancement, nurses will play a major role in protecting personal health information. With the knowledge of the direct consequences that breeches can incur, nurses will exert more vigilance in protecting these patient health records. Nurses will become the first line of defense against possible breeches in patient information security.

Reference: USA Center for Disease Control

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