Several Drivers Push Health Care IT

Carl Weinschenk
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Key Health Care IT Trends

The good news is that primary focus now seems to be squarely on improving the overall quality of health care and the reduction of human errors.

The health care industry is awash in data, and the situation is likely to get even more intense as the new health care laws slowly come into effect. For this reason, the government is aggressively pushing electronic health records (EHR).


The efforts are showing signs of real progress. This week, Government Health IT and many other sites reported that the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics found that for the first time more than half of physicians use EHR systems in their offices.


The precise finding, part of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, was that 50.7 percent use full or partial systems. That was 2.4 percent more than last year. Commentary in the story ties the slow, but inexorable rise, at least partially to incentives that the Health and Human Services Department will begin paying next year. Eight states (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii) are "significantly" higher users of EHR than average, the story said.


In what in essence is an executive summary to a story at InformationWeek, Marianne Kolbasuk McGee describes Health Information Exchanges (HIEs). While they aren't high-profile, their existence play a vital role and seem to make perfect sense:

Generally, HIEs provide electronic referrals, clinical messaging, public health surveillance, insurance eligibility, e-prescribing, and other services. Some exchanges operate a centralized data repository, requiring them to have their own infrastructure of servers and data centers. Others HIEs use decentralized data models and serve as less of a central hub, instead playing a traffic-cop role, coordinating the data-sharing, governance, and security policies the organization needs to function.

HIEs don't have to be as complex as the above excerpt suggests. They do, however, represent a second rung of health care information transmissions-and one that also is bound to grow over the next few years.


The economic stimulus-more formerly, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-is another reason that health care IT will grow. This story, from the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, says that health care information centers will spring up as EHR gets more widely used and as incentive payments near. The story describes the local office, which is the West Virginia Regional Health Information Technology Extension Center:

The center is designed to serve as a statewide resource center to aid primary care providers in implementing and using certified health information technology and achieving health improvement outcomes through "meaningful use." The WVRHITEC involves a collaboration of several state organizations focused on improving health care quality and access. Key partners are the West Virginia Health Improvement Institute, the West Virginia Medical Institute, the Community Health Network of West Virginia and the Upper Ohio Valley IPA.

The health care supply chain is still another health-related IT sector. This week, the University of Arkansas Center for Innovation in Healthcare Logistics, the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association and the Association for Healthcare Resource and Materials Management released a study that found that 68 percent of respondents were working towards standards in this area, which was almost two times as many as two years ago. The story offers other survey figures that are best understood by close observers of the health care supply chain. The spin, however, is that progress is being made.


Health care and IT always have been inseparable. That togetherness will increase as new technologies and systems are deployed and the health care laws change.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 20, 2010 1:22 AM Katelyn Surak Katelyn Surak  says:

'Health Information Exchanges (HIEs): While they aren't high-profile, their existence plays a vital role and seems to make perfect sense.'

In agreement with that statement, HIEs are overlooked as a 'vital' part of EHR systems. As the article mentions, 'more than half of physicians use EHR systems in their offices,' but these can vary between locations, creating an additional problem for stored record compatibility and retrieval. Proper HIE systems have the opportunity to solve these issues, especially if the patient is made owner of his own records, and the 'exchange' process occurs through secure technological systems. Using HIE systems that operate through a centralized data repository enables doctors, physicians and patients the ability to access health information from one collective location. I stumbled across an interesting review of HIE issues and a repository-based solution related to this post that provides more information on the topic:

The solution described in the above linked blog solves issues related to varying EHR software and affirms the 'vitality' of HIE systems within the health-related IT sector.


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