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The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is one of the most significant pieces of healthcare-related legislation to pass in recent years. The HITECH Act is designed to encourage hospitals and other healthcare providers to embrace new technologies and IT services as a means of improving outcomes for patients across the country. The legislation established both rewards for early adopters and potential penalties for those firms that fail to meet deadlines.
According to a recent survey from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), these incentives are proving to be extremely effective, as hospitals are achieving meaningful use of mandated technologies at high rates. However, there are also signs that greater IT services adoption will face major challenges in the near future.
Medscape reported that the HIMSS Leadership Survey, released at the HIMSS Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, revealed that more than 90 percent of participants' hospitals have achieved first stage meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs) and related technologies. This includes not only capturing health information in a digital, standardized format but also deploying this information to better track clinical conditions.
Furthermore, the survey found that the majority of participants believe their organizations will reach stage two of HITECH's meaningful use standards before the end of 2014. These standards, as Medscape noted, are significantly more rigorous than stage one.
The news source pointed out that respondents indicated a shift away from simply achieving meaningful use of EHRs, with healthcare providers increasingly focused on utilizing IT services and technology to effectively support physicians.
"It is very possible that the respondents are seeing physician systems as a critical first step in the move toward a fully functional electronic health record," Lorren Pettit, vice president of market research for HIMSS Analytics, told the news source.
In addition to achieving EHR meaningful use standards, the survey revealed that hospitals are increasingly making strides toward providing patient access to medical data. More than 35 percent of respondents said their hospitals provide patients with secure online access to this information, whereas only 12 percent of organizations had achieved this functionality in 2010.
The survey also demonstrated that healthcare professionals are becoming more comfortable with and confident in new technologies. More than one-third of participants said that these IT services and tools can have a positive impact on outcomes, the news source reported.
Challenges on the horizon
However, while the HIMSS survey painted a very rosy picture of technology in the healthcare sector, there is also cause for concern. Modern Healthcare reported that almost 50 of the largest healthcare groups in the United States recently wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to grant more time and flexibility for meeting meaningful use EHR standards.
Specifically, these groups want the deadline for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive program to be pushed back to 2015, instead of the current dates of July 1 for hospitals and Oct. 1 for professionals.
"Providers need adequate time to learn how to use the newly deployed technology, including examining staff assignments, workflows and practice process," the letter explained, the news source reported. "If providers move forward, as dictated by the current policy, our concerns regarding rushed implementations are heightened. Furthermore, we believe the 'all or nothing' approach—where missing a single objective by even a small amount results in failure for the program year—compounds our concerns."
Whether the deadlines are extended or not, this request highlights the fact that while the healthcare industry is making significant strides toward embracing EHRs and other new IT services, hiccups are inevitable as time goes on.