With health care costs and quality assurance as central issues in health care reform, health information technology (HIT) is viewed as a key tool in achieving both lower costs and improved quality of care. While there are several components to HIT, significant attention and resources are being devoted to electronic health records (EHRs) as a means to improve coordination of care, securely share patient information with other providers and with patients themselves, reduce medical errors and increase efficiency, thereby reducing the cost of care. For family planning providers, building HIT infrastructure will help service sites effectively negotiate contracts with insurers and improve service delivery and patient care quality.
In February 2009, President Obama signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) which has become the guiding framework for health IT in the country. A key component was the authorization of incentive payments to Medicaid and Medicare providers who adopt and demonstrate "meaningful use" of certified EHR technology into their practices. In short, eligible providers are being offered incentive payments for meaningfully using EHRs to improve efficiency and health care outcomes. In order to obtain payments, providers must meet certain criteria within specified timeframes.
Meaningful use is a three-stage process which uses certified EHR technology to achieve health and efficiency goals. The final rules for stage 1 and stage 2 have been released. Additional information about meaningful use and HIT can be found:
- Meaningful use - The Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) provides source documents, meaningful use resources for safety net providers and other information to help providers meaningfully use electronic health records to improve clinical efficiency and outcomes.
- Eligible providers must enroll in the EHR Incentive Program established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in order to participate in the program and receive incentive payments for meaningful use of EHRs.
- The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology offers information about HIT, how to attain meaningful use, getting started and helps with adoption of EHRs, enabling regulations, privacy and security, and related topics. There are tabs for Providers and Professionals, Patients and Families, and Policy Researchers and Implementers.
- The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality makes available HIT tools and resource, a knowledge library, funding opportunities and more in its HIT section.
- The ONC's Regional Extension Centers (RECs), located in every region of the country, serve as a support and resource center to assist providers in EHR implementation and HealthIT needs.