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 jobs.”