Posts Tagged ‘Electronic Medical Records’

Health Information Technology and the Stimulus Package: Information and Changes for the Public and Employment Opportunities

November 16, 2009

Health information technology (HIT) is a broad term used to describe the digital storage, management, and secure exchange of health information between patients, providers, government, and insurers.  The information being exchange primarily refers to but is not limited to Electronic Health Records (EHRs are sometimes called electronic medical records (EMRs)).

Earlier this year, Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Stimulus Bill) was signed into law.  One part of the Stimulus Bill; the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, aims to increase the use of an EHR by doctors and hospitals by:

  • “Requiring the government to take a leadership role to develop standards by 2010 that allow for the nationwide electronic exchange and use of health information to improve quality and coordination of care.”
  • “Investing $20 billion in health information technology infrastructure and Medicare and Medicaid incentives to encourage doctors and hospitals to use HIT to electronically exchange patients’ health information.”
  • “Saving the government $10 billion, and generating additional savings throughout the health sector, through improvements in the quality of care and care coordination, and reductions in medical errors and duplicative care.”
  • “Strengthening Federal privacy and security law to protect identifiable health information from misuse as the health care sector increases use of Health IT.”

Information and Changes for the Public:
Health information technology and electronic health records will not only improve patient care but also change the way we experience health care.   Even the best doctors can make mistakes or unintentionally overlook important details; an EHR will reduce the risk of these errors.   EHRs negate mistakes made due to sloppy handwritten notes.  They have automatic drug-drug/ drug-food interaction and allergy checks, and since they are online, standard drug dosage information and educational patient information can also be accessed.  Built- in alerts remind doctors of preventive care timelines, and can track referrals and test results.

Another major advantage of EHRs is they are maintained digitally and once they progress to their full potential, they can be accessed from anywhere.  Because it is simple to back-up this data to another location, EHRs also guarantee information will never be lost or damaged as a result of a natural disaster.  In the event of an emergency hospital visit or sickness while away from home, a doctor will immediately be able to pull up a patient’s chart and access information potentially crucial in diagnosing and treatment.  Referral doctors will be able to see any treatment a patient is undergoing by other doctors and make decisions that will not interfere with that treatment.

Though there are many benefits, HIT is not without its drawbacks.  Advocacy groups like the ACLU are wary of HIT and question how secure confidential medical records will really be if they are kept digitally online.  The potential for online medical records to be hacked is real and very serious; electronic databases and servers regularly experience hack attempts and an EHR would be no different. 

It is easy to placate the fear of EHRs being hacked and find comfort in the idea that “if someone really wanted my medical file they could just as easily break into my doctor’s office.”  This leads to the conclusion that “nobody would break into my doctor’s office to steal my records, because I am simply not that important.”  However, hacking into an EHR system is not the same as breaking into your doctors.  The threat of your EHR being attacked is not only about your personal health information; hacking into an EHR means gaining access to everyone’s valuable health information.  Hackers could sell the information found in the nation’s family histories, mental health history, test results, current medication, etc… or use it to bribe and blackmail people in countless ways for countless amounts of money.  Even worse, they could change the EHR causing unimaginable damage.

However, the benefits of an EHR far surpass the risks.  The government is working hard to minimize the threat of hacking.  Part of the HITECH is to strengthen “Federal privacy and security law to protect identifiable health information for misuse as the health care sector increases use of Health IT.”

Information and Changes for Employment:
Employment for medical records and health information technicians is very good and is expected to grow faster than the average professional field.  The projected employment for 2016 is 200,000.  That is 30,000 more than 2006 or an 18% increase.  Physicians’ offices, home health care services, outpatient care centers, and nursing and residential care facilities will have the most job growth and creation of new jobs.  Job growth in hospitals will not be as great but new jobs will still be created.

The growth of HIT and increased use of EHR will benefit everyone and is not something to be scared of.

Questions: Does anyone work in a facility that has already implemented an EHR?  Have you experienced or do you foresee any other problems or risks with an EHR other than hacking?

About the Author: Erika Christenson is a Staff Writer with the Clear Medical Solutions Communication Team.  Her work is regularly shared on the Clear Medical Agency newsletter and the ClearManagementMatters.com blog. 

References:
Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 Edition.  Medical Records and Health Information Technicians. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocoS103.htm

Title IV- Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act.  January 16, 2009.  http://waysandmeans.house.gov/media/pdf/110/hit2.pdf

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