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Unleashing the Potential of HIT

Health Information Technology (HIT) is widely agreed upon as fundamental to improving the value of health care delivery. While the United States has lagged significantly in the widespread adoption of HIT, numerous health systems around the world have integrated electronic communication that not only increases productivity and efficiency, but improves the quality of care and saves lives. Electronic health records (EHRs), telemedicine and electronic public program enrollment are just a few of the HIT processes that will help facilitate a higher performance health system.

For hospitals, HIT and EHRs reduces waste by eliminating duplicative tests and adverse drug reactions due to misplaced medical records. For physicians, HIT means faster electronic claims payments and continuity of proper care through consistent medical records. For research, HIT means access to terabytes of national data on patient health outcomes, treatment effectiveness, and quality measurements in care delivery in order to maximize the value and excellence of our health care system. For public health officials, it means more effectively monitoring and isolating epidemics. For rural clinics, it means utilizing expert diagnostics from around the globe in order to provide proper care to their patients. For consumers, HIT means controlling how and when your medical information is seen and stored, and managing your own health more effectively through mediums still in infancy such as iPhone applications, Web technologies, social networks, and the Nintendo Wii.

Despite the national lag, there are promising examples of effective HIT implementation such as the VA’s publicly-available electronic medical system and Kaiser’s HealthConnect. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) made a significant investment in HIT, and reform proposals include additional incentives for its adoption in hospitals, physician groups, and clinics. Proposals will encourage electronic communication through payment incentives and facilitate electronic coordination of care. Reform also includes a number of strategies to facilitate enrollment in public programs, as millions are currently eligible for programs like Medicaid but are not enrolled. A new electronic enrollment tool in California called One-e-App, for example, has already shown marked success and can act as a model for national efforts.

Though benefits of the above examples are measurable most have not had time to be fully realized, with longer-term improvements yet to even emerge. HIT requires significant up front investments in the hardware, software, and training to utilize it. It is important for the federal government and private sector to continue to facilitate adoption and development of HIT in order to bring health care into the 21st century and truly unlock the potential of an integrated health care system.

For more info and the latest news on everything HIT, visit iHealthBeat, a project of the California HealthCare Foundation.

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