Till now, health IT (HIT) has remained an economic outcast in the system that is all set for an overhaul—an overhaul that could mean affordable health insurance possible for one and all. But how could a robust system sustain such a renovation and modernization without potent tools? Pretty strangely, the US budget for HIT has been low, though it could mean an efficient healthcare system and a saving worth noticing.

The IT departments of healthcare industry do suffer from poor infrastructure and advancement. An estimate mentions that industries outside the healthcare system spend around seven times more than the health industries to develop their IT departments.

According to a report by www.commonwealthfund.org the adoption of electronic health records could produce efficiency and safety savings of $142 billion in U.S. physician offices and $371 billion in U.S. hospitals till 2020. However, this could mean a cost of around $156 billion over five years, with an additional $48 billion in operating costs.

Throwing a casual look won’t do justice to these statistics. If it is possible, HIT deserves more attention and cogent efforts to make sure the results are accrued…


Hitting the “understand” button of HIT

Health IT could include electronic medical records (EMRs), electronic health records (EHRs), personal health records (PHRs), payor-based health records (PBHRs), and electronic prescribing (e-prescribing). All these systems show great promise in transforming the delivery and payment of healthcare in the US. With these systems being optimal, improving population health and the overall efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare is possible. With the robustness of HIT increased, medical errors can be reduced and unnecessary or duplicative healthcare services can be eliminated.

The connection between healthcare reforms (HCR) and health IT is strong. As a Senator, Barack Obama had called for a $10 billion-a-year investment over the next five years to foster the broad adoption of health IT. HIT was expected to receive economic stimulus in the new bill and it was not surprising when around $20 billion was provided to develop health IT.

Among the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a call has been made to develop a plan by Jan. 1, 2012 to integrate reporting on quality of care with reporting of meaningful use of electronic health records. At later stages, starting in 2015, it would require EHR’s use in promoting quality of care improvement.

HIT provides a workable mechanism to achieve the goals that healthcare reforms have. Improving access to healthcare services, quality of the healthcare services, and at the same time, helping in lowering costs are among few of them. Further, empowering consumers in their healthcare decisions, and maintaining the privacy and security of personal health information are some issues that need to be addressed and achieved by the implementation of HIT.

Importance of medical records

According to a study conducted by Accenture, 58% of U.S. physicians who don’t use electronic medical records (EMRs) intend to purchase an EMR system within the next two years. It goes without saying that maintaining personal records about patients is bound to raise concerns about data-security, but given the impact it could have, it is worth a try. To summarize, it would mean huge paper-use cut, reduction in errors in prescription, and reduction in errors of transferring of data between hospitals.

Dr. Kip Webb, who leads Accenture’s clinical transformation practice, commented on the study: “If U.S. healthcare providers properly implement and use EMRs more broadly, there is no doubt that EMRs can make an important contribution to improving quality of care and controlling costs.”

Promise HIT holds

HIT is a potent tool to deliver the effectiveness of healthcare reforms in an efficient way. Through the use of computers and computer programs, storing, protecting, retrieving, and transferring clinical, administrative, and financial information electronically within and between healthcare stakeholders is possible.

Some features of HIT include:

  • Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
  • Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
  • Personal Health Records (PHRs)
  • Payor-based Health Records (PBHRs)
  • Electronic Prescribing (e-Prescribing)
  • Financial/Billing/Administrative Systems
  • Computerized Practitioner Order Entry (CPOE) Systems

These systems would mean that the promises that HIT holds could become a reality.

Conclusion

Successful implementation of HIT would mean certain issues that the IT industry would need to address:

  • Leadership to develop and steer the strategy
  • Interoperability
  • Privacy and security of personal data
  • Implementing electronic payments
  • Funding to achieve the target of infrastructure

Without doubt, HIT is going to play a pivotal role in achieving the targets of healthcare reforms. Insurance companies, physicians, and other players involved in the health insurance industry need to recognize this role and adopt a synergetic look towards the implementation of robust IT tools. It could mean initial budget and costs but it has a sure ROI potential and long-term benefits.

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