Health IT

As essential hospitals continue their journey toward delivery system reform and improving population health, health information technology (HIT) has become an indispensable tool. The era of paper-based medical records has given way to the electronic health record (EHR), a transition largely due to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, which created incentives for the adoption and meaningful use of EHRs.

Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Nearly all essential hospitals have adopted an EHR and leverage it to bolster care. Benefits of using EHRs include assisting with electronic prescribing, communicating with public health departments on immunization and disease surveillance, and allowing patients to access their records when and where they choose.

Essential hospitals use HIT to improve patient outcomes and meet public health needs. An association member, for example, used its EHR to reveal elevated lead levels among children in Flint, Mich., which alerted that city to a dire public health threat posed by its water system. Essential hospitals also expand access to lifesaving services in their communities and beyond through telehealth programs.

While the HITECH Act has spurred EHR adoption, many aspects of the federal meaningful use program are burdensome for hospitals, including its increasingly stringent requirements as hospitals progress from one stage to the next.

While EHRs have the potential to drive a beneficial exchange of information between hospitals and other providers and patients, there are many obstacles — most outside a hospital’s control — that prevent a hospital from seamlessly exchanging information. America’s Essential Hospitals will continue to focus its advocacy on ensuring HIT realizes its potential without creating an undue burden on essential hospitals.