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Health IT experts evaluate the HITECH act

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The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was signed into law in 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to “promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology.” Incentives integral to the HITECH Act were designed to encourage independent physicians to adopt the use of electronic health records (EHRs).

A recent Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine states that currently “nearly 80% of office-based practices use certified EHRs.” While most physicians and their patients agree that EHRs provide value in that they increase efficiency, improve communications, and enable physicians to focus more on their patient care, there are still some obstacles to their use, particularly involving interoperability uses.

Interoperability essentially means that different EHR systems are able to talk to each other. Concerns regarding interoperability include ensuring the safety and security of transferred information. In addition, since so many different EHR systems exist, each with different interfaces, technical specifications, and capabilities it is more difficult to understand how to exchange information in a frictionless way.

The role of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), originally a coordinating entity and not a regulating agency, may need to change to help overcome those obstacles going forward. The authors of the Perspective piece, who were formerly national coordinators for health IT “believe that the culture surrounding access to and sharing of information must change to promote the seamless, secure flow of electronic information.”

According to the Perspective, the ONC role will also be integral in “coordinating federal agencies in developing guidelines for technology deployment — collaboration that must be complemented by private-sector–led innovation.” The US has seen rapid gains in the use of EHRs since the launch of the HITECH Act. According to health IT experts, much more can be done as Federal partners “model new innovations that promote the seamless flow of information for care delivery.”