The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a part of the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, has brought health information technology into the nation’s spotlight – primarily through an emphasis on the need for medical records to be available as digital sources of data. As a result, there is an ever growing need not only for practices and facilities to adopt electronic health records (EHRs), but also to demonstrate that these electronic records are being put to “meaningful use.” The HITECH Act specifies that healthcare providers using EHRs can be eligible to receive government funding – if they can demonstrate that they are improving their quality of care by taking advantage of the increased accessibility of patient information.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), the organizations behind the HITECH Act, determine if healthcare professionals are using their EHRs “meaningfully” by how well they align to these five key principles:

  1. Improving quality, safety, efficiency, and reducing health disparities
  2. Engaging patients and families in their health
  3. Improving care coordination
  4. Improving population and public health
  5. Ensuring adequate privacy and security protection for personal health information

These principles serve as subcategories for what is considered meaningful use, all building toward the key focus – functionality. The government is financially incentivizing purposeful health information systems that will engage with and utilize the vast wealth of data that has previously been laying stagnant in filing cabinets.

The meaningful use requirement intends to transform the patient experience in doctors’ offices and hospitals by ensuring that health practitioners have immediate access to all relevant patient information, preventing delays or inaccuracies in treatment. This efficiency should also extend to a patient’s experience following an appointment – including electronic prescriptions and access to digital health records. The goal of this system built around meaningful use is to develop a network in which a patient has a single electronic health record that travels with them throughout their lifetime. While this may sound rather lofty, it may be realizable – it’s currently being addressed head-on through the development of Health Information Exchanges in several regions.

Beyond the individual patient’s experience at medical facilities, the nature of public health will also be dramatically impacted by the increased availability of information – trends can be monitored and outbreaks can more readily be identified and addressed. CMS and ONC intend to modernize every aspect of health information technology to increase the efficiency and the accuracy of the American healthcare system.

With such vast goals, CMS and ONC have broken down their requirements into manageable stages, allowing for a practical transition. So far, the requirements for the first two stages of the shift have been laid out, along with a timeline indicating when eligible practices and hospitals must comply in order to receive designated funds. These requirements focus on transparency, patient communication, reducing errors, tracking prescriptions and lab work, and maintaining accurate and accessible patient data. Subsequent stages are still under development, allowing room for practitioner feedback and changing requirements.

Why does it matter?

The HITECH Act is a major overhaul of the way healthcare practices conduct their day-to-day business and, in many cases, systems which perform the functions necessary to comply with meaningful use requirements don’t exist yet. This presents enormous opportunities and challenges to those willing (and bold enough) to take advantage of them.

Due to the significant government funding tied to meaningful use incentives, projects that demonstrate alignment (e.g. automated analysis and electronic prescription systems) are in high demand by any and all eligible practices. Since any effort spent toward meeting this requirement on the part of healthcare professionals is time that could valuably be spent performing more immediately relevant services, developing user-friendly software that complies with meaningful use standards in a timely matter is essential to ensuring that practices are able to stay profitable and productive.

This legislation presents tremendous opportunities for big ideas to come to fruition in the healthcare industry. If you have a plan for how you’d like to make this (or any) data more meaningful, but lack the technical expertise to bring it to life, we can help.

RTS Labs is equipped to handle complex and developing requirements.

RTS Labs has already demonstrated its proficiency at navigating the choppy waters that surround this adapting government program – to the benefit of many clients. On one such occasion, RTS worked within the Health Level 7 (HL7) ecosystem to develop a healthcare software application that communicates between existing EHR and Lab record systems, ensuring that lab test orders and results are automatically associated with a patient’s EHR. This software also linked to the practice’s billing system, saving time and money by simplifying the paperwork required for filing insurance claims.

Automated reporting and messaging processes, such as these, can minimize potentials for error within test ordering and record keeping systems. As a result, this software provided more than just a fulfillment of meaningful use requirements – it made a quantifiable improvement in the day-to-day functioning of a medical practice. RTS Labs understands the ever expanding software needs of healthcare professionals and is passionate about fulfilling those needs.