Happy Birthday, HITECH!
Yes, readers of the HIM world, it was 1 year ago today that President Obama took that fateful pen to paper and signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), paving the way for electronic health records (EHRs) and all the perks and headaches associated with them.
The push for EHRs is part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, a component of ARRA with the specific goal of using a combination of technology and training to improve health care while reducing costs. Things like regional extension centers and EHR incentive payments (which you've hopefully heard all about by now), fall under the legislation, as does funding for educational programs so there's a work force available to coordinate such projects.
So far, the stimulus seems to be working. In a recent survey, nearly 50 percent of patient respondents said their doctor used digital records during their last visit. Of those 14.3 percent said their doctor had installed the electronic system within the past 6 months.
It's a great start, but there's still the problem of making sure those records can connect. Last week--perhaps in honor of HITECH's approaching milestone--the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Labor announced the availability of nearly $1 billion in stimulus grants to help states promote EHR adoption and build health information exchange (HIE). Among the recipients, California snagged more than $100 million to fund its efforts, while Massachusetts earned $26 million and Vermont and Tennessee secured $12 million each.
The anniversary is a celebratory moment, but it also marks a deadline for some organizations. Starting today, business associates (BAs), including medical transcription service organizations (MTSOs), must comply with the HIPAA Security Rule. Once reserved for covered entities, the extensive requirements for encryption and protection of personal health information were expanded to BAs under HITECH. MTSOs and other affected companies had a year to get in line, but now HHS is ready to drop the hammer.
What does it mean for those in the MT biz? You'll have to wait until our March issue to find out (we're checking in with industry experts to see who's prepared for HITECH). From the looks of it, BAs better hope compliance audits aren't high on the HHS agenda.
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