The percentage of US hospitals using health information technology such as Electronic Health Records has more than doubled in the last two years, according to an announcement by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as she visited a Health Science Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday.
Sebelius made the announcement during a speech. She was in Kansas to discuss the growth of professional jobs in the field of health IT.
Sebelius said there has been major progress in use of health information technology (health IT) by doctors and hospitals, and that new data shows nearly 2,000 hospitals and more than 41,000 doctors have now received over $3 billion in incentive payments to use health IT in a meaningful way, particularly Electronic Health Records (EHRs).
“Health IT is the foundation for a truly 21st century health system where we pay for the right care, not just more care,” said Sebelius.
“Health care professionals and hospitals are taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to begin using smarter, new technology that improves care and creates the jobs we need for an economy built to last,” she added.
Sebelius quoted figures from a new survey by the American Hospital Association and reported by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. This found that the proportion of US hospitals that now use EHRs went up from 16% in 2009 to 35% in 2011.
New figures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) show that physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers have received $3.12 billion in incentive payments to use EHRs to improve quality of patient care.
In just one month, in January, CMS handed out $519 million to eligible providers. Incentive payments to encourage use of EHRs in meaningful ways can be up to $44,000 under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and up to $63,750 under the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.
This trend parallels an anticipated fast growth in the labour market for health IT jobs throughout the US.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, such jobs are expected to rise by 20% between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average across all occupations in the same period.
The Obama Administration has launched four training programs to grow the workforce with the skills and qualifications required to meet the demands that will be made by the health IT sector.
Training will be offered through 82 communitiy colleges and 9 universities across the country.
So far, up to January 2012, community colleges have trained over 9,000 students for health IT jobs, and over 8,700 have enrolled.
And up to February 2012, over 1,200 students have enrolled at participating universities, where nearly 600 post-graduate and masters-level IT professionals have graduated. The total number of graduates is expected to grow to 1,700 and more by the summer of 2013.
Other workforce training programs are also having an effect: for instance the health IT workforce curriculum, which offers colleges and universities health IT teaching materials at no cost to instructors. Another is the HIT Pro Exam, which has been taken by over 2,000 people since its launch in May 2011. Passing the exam shows employers that the successful candidate has the knowledge and skills required to work in health IT.
Health IT is an umbrella terms for the computerized, secure, management and sharing of health information among various users, including patients, doctors, hospitals, government, insurers, and quality inspectors.
There is great hope that it will improve the quality, safety and efficiency of healthcare delivery. For example, a consistent use of such technology across the board is expected to reduce medical errors, health care costs, and paperwork.
It is also expected not only to benefit individuals by improving patient care and increase access to affordable healthcare, but also to benefit public health and society at large, for instance by helping to detect disease outbreaks earlier, improve surveillance, and allow value and quality comparisons across systems of provision.
However, there are those who warn adopters not to get carried away by the hype that suggests the benefits of health IT will be quick and automatic.
Take for example the benefits expected to accrue from widespread data sharing. Peter Gabriel, director of informatics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology, was quoted recently in a special Computerworld report on Healthcare IT.
Gabriel said it could be 10 or 15 years before data sharing in health IT is widespread, because it’s “a lot harder to achieve than most people appreciate”.
“Simply implementing computer systems won’t dramatically improve quality overnight,” said Gabriel.
“Very careful system design and configuration, along with a lot of thoughtful human process improvement, are necessary in order to make the technology truly helpful,” he warned.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD