The use of health information technology has doubled
during the past 2 years, according to results of a Department of Health and
Human Services report released last week.
Now, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced new
actions to speed the use of health information technology in doctors’
offices and hospitals nationwide, which is expected to improve health care and
create new employment opportunities.
New administrative actions to increase health IT
nationwide, made possible by the Health Information Technology for Economic and
Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, will make it easier for doctors and other health
care professionals to receive incentive payments for adopting and meaningfully
using health IT. Currently, eligible doctors and hospitals that agree to
participate in Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive
Programs in 2011 must meet new standards for the program in 2013. Those that do
not participate until 2012 can wait to meet these new standards until 2014 and
still receive incentive payment. In addition, HHS plans to allow doctors and
hospitals to adopt health IT this year, without meeting new standards until
2014. Doctors may also be eligible for incentive payments in 2011 and 2012.
These policy changes will help doctors and hospitals
receive more information about best practices and vendors with products that
will allow health care providers to meaningfully use EHRs.
HHS will also target outreach, education and training
for Medicare-eligible professionals who are registered in the Medicare EHR
Incentive Programs but have not yet met requirements for meaningful use.
Besides improving the health care system, recent data
indicate that the national transition to health IT is creating job
opportunities. More than 50,000 health IT-related jobs have been created since
the enactment of the HITECH Act. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
the number of health IT jobs across the country is expected to increase by 20%
from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations through
2018, according to an HHS press release.
To meet the demand for workers with health IT experience
and training, the Obama administration has created four work force development
programs. Training will be provided at 82 community colleges and four
universities throughout the United States. As of October, more than 5,700
professionals have successfully completed training in health IT at community
colleges. In addition, more than 10,000 students are currently enrolled in the
training programs nationwide. As of November, universities have graduated more
than 500 postgraduate and masters-level health IT professionals, with more than
1,700 expected to graduate by July 2013.
“When doctors and hospitals use health IT, patients
get better care, and we save money,” Sebelius said in the press release.
“We’re making great progress, but we can’t wait to do more. Too
many doctors and hospitals are still using the same record-keeping technology
as Hippocrates. Today, we are making it easier for health care providers to use
new technology to improve the health care system for all of us and create more