One of the most important modern healthcare information regulations of the current generation is the 1996 regulatory act called Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) (Security, 2019). Over the years, many amendments were made to HIPAA, and in 2009 congress updated HIPAA with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) (Security, 2019). While HIPAA was intended for several beneficial purposes like making health insurance affordable and protecting patient data, loopholes in the act were being exploited by several parties and the electronic systems that were suggested to be incorporated into medical services were being ignored (Security, 2019). Thus, the HITECH act was proposed to pinch off the loopholes and to incentivize healthcare services to adopt the electronic health record (EHR) system.
To understand why HIPAA and HITECH acts were developed in the first place, it is first important to acknowledge that the healthcare service industry has both economic and political dimensions. HITECH is a government incentive program encouraging physicians to implement electronic health records (Security, 2019). This industry-wide EHR adoption incentive program costs the congress billions of dollars every year. The act uses financial incentives to not just encourage physicians to adopt EHR, but to adopt EHR certified by the government (Security, 2019). While electronic records have been used since the 1960s (although only sparingly), the widespread use of computers in the 1990s tipped the government to consider implementing a widespread adoption of an EHR that could help in the recording and exchange of clinical information (Security, 2019). Even by the year 2009, only a few doctors had adopted the digital capabilities of the information age to record and share medical information, with most of them still holding on to the use of paper to record and share information (Security, 2019). Thus, one of the main reasons behind the enforcement of EHR was the many-fold increase in efficiency provided by EHR.
In fact, the Obama administration, in 2009, even decided to spend billions of dollars to stimulate EHR adoption, and help guide physicians from the inefficiencies of a paper-based to protect patient privacy and improve health outcomes (EHR Meaningful Use Criteria, n.d.). Qualified professionals are eligible to receive up to $44,000 over five years in Medicare incentives and upto $64,000 in Medicaid incentives (EHR Meaningful Use Criteria, n.d.). However, any physician or healthcare service who waits could not only lose out but also get hit with penalties (Security, 2019). Typically, a physician has to prove that he uses a certified EHR system and demonstrate a “meaningful use” criteria of EHR use (Security, 2019). Each provider has to meet this comprehensive “meaningful use” criteria which break down into five big goals. And if even one aspect of this goal is not met by the physician, they would become ineligible for the payments under the HITECH act (Security, 2019).
The strictly enforced and ever evolving meaningful use criteria ensures a host of benefits to the patients through the employment of a certified EHR system by the physician. For instance, the meaningful use of the EHR is meant to improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare (EHR Meaningful Use Criteria, n.d.). Moreover, the reduction of errors and disparities also goes a long way in protecting sensitive patient information (EHR Meaningful Use Criteria, n.d.). EHR is also expected to improve care coordination between physicians and between nurses and physicians (EHR Meaningful Use Criteria, n.d.). Such outcomes are generated through a list of goals. These goals include transparency and ease in communication with public health agencies. Other goals necessitate the creation of technologies and operating policies that comply with the goals of HIPAA (EHR Meaningful Use Criteria, n.d.). Other such goals also include the reporting of patient registries in order to improve quality and public reporting.
The adoption of EHR incentivized by the HITECH act along with its associated adoption of meeting the “meaningful use’ criteria has transitioned the behavior of nurses to be more alert and careful (“Impact of EHRs on Nursing Practice,” 2016). Given the liability of losing money if the criteria is not met, nurses now focus a lot more on patient care, complying with the expected standards and in creating more detailed records (“Impact of EHRs on Nursing Practice,” 2016). This ensured more safety and security to patients. Some nurses, despite complaining about the difficult expectations of HITECH, agreed that once the mastery of the EHR was complete, they did understand the benefits of the time saving and privacy-oriented EHR system (“Impact of EHRs on Nursing Practice,” 2016). The ease in communication of electronic information also has a darker side: it is much easier to share patient information with unauthorized parties. Thus, the adoption of the meaningful use criteria has also prevented nurses from partaking in such behavior.