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Aug 22, 2023 12:00:00 AM6 min read

What is the HITECH Act?

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, enacted in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), is a landmark piece of legislation in the U.S. that ushered in a new era of healthcare technology. Its primary purpose was to promote the widespread adoption and meaningful use of innovative healthcare technologies to enhance healthcare quality, efficiency, and patient data security.

Despite its introduction nearly 15 years ago, this law still has a huge impact on how healthcare data is managed today. In this article, we'll discuss how the HITECH Act changed healthcare technology and why it's important for businesses across the healthcare industry to understand these regulations.

Understanding the HITECH Act

President Obama signed the HITECH Act into law on February 17, 2009, as a response to the growing need for a robust and secure infrastructure for health information technology. The HITECH Act aimed to mitigate the challenges and inefficiencies of the paper-based health records system. To achieve this, the HITECH Act included a number of important provisions that still apply to healthcare providers, health plans, and business associates today.

Advancing Healthcare Technology and EHRs

The HITECH Act provided substantial financial incentives to encourage the adoption and meaningful use of certain healthcare technologies, including EHRs (electronic health records) and HIEs (health information exchanges). It also developed and implemented a set of nationwide standards for sharing healthcare information.

"Meaningful use" is a term coined under the HITECH Act. Meaningful use guidelines ensure providers utilize healthcare technology in a manner that improves the quality, safety, and efficiency of care. For example, providers now use healthcare technology to issue electronic prescriptions, rather than simply adopting these technologies to digitize healthcare records. The Meaningful Use Program also established rules for ensuring the privacy and security of patient health information, engaging patients and their families, improving care coordination, and maintaining a standard of public health.

Protecting Patient Privacy

The HITECH Act also set stricter rules for healthcare data protection and confidentiality. It essentially expanded the scope of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), making it obligatory for healthcare providers and "covered entities" to protect patient data from breaches and unauthorized access, and notify patients if their information is compromised.

The HITECH Act also increased liability for violating HIPAA guidelines. Non-compliant businesses can now expect increased fines and penalties of upwards of $1.5 million per year, thanks to the HITECH Act. Similarly, the number of businesses required to abide by HIPAA guidelines expanded after the HITECH Act was signed. Most significantly, the HITECH Act expanded liability for non-compliance to business associates of medical organizations regulated by HIPAA and their contractors.

Promoting Interoperability and the Health Information Exchange

The Health Information Exchange (HIE), the system that allows healthcare organizations and providers to share patient health information electronically, was significantly bolstered by the HITECH Act. The act widely supported the concept of interoperability and provided significant funding and regulatory guidelines for the HIE. This paved the way for a more integrated and accessible health information network across the U.S.

The HIE is still active and continues to play a significant role in modern healthcare. The HIE allows providers to access a patient's complete medical history electronically, including diagnoses, medications, allergies, lab results, and other relevant information. This comprehensive view helps providers make informed decisions, deliver more coordinated care, reduce duplicate testing, and provide speedy, accurate access to crucial medical information in emergency situations.

Why is the HITECH Act Important?

It's hard to think back to a time when computers and automation weren't part of the everyday routine. But, a study by the National Library of Medicine suggests that while an estimated 73% of hospitals had begun the transition to an EHR system prior to the HITECH Act, only 9% of hospitals had implemented a complete basic EHR system by 2008. So, the HITECH Act certainly did a lot to encourage the adoption of new systems and practices.

It's important that business leaders, even those outside the healthcare industry, understand its significance today. Here's why business leaders should pay attention to the HITECH Act:

  • Compliance and Penalties: Non-compliance with the HITECH Act and HIPAA can result in hefty penalties of up to $1.5 million per year per category of violation.
  • Data Protection and Risk Management: HITECH and HIPAA provide guidelines on how to secure healthcare data to mitigate breaches, which is critical for maintaining patient trust and avoiding damage to your business reputation and financial standing.
  • Innovation Opportunities: Regulations and technological advances can reshape industries. Business leaders who are well-informed about initiatives like the HITECH Act are better prepared to adapt to changes that could impact their operations and strategies. Similar to healthcare's shift towards patient-centered care, industries can use the principles of the HITECH Act to focus on customer-centric solutions in other industries.

Expansion of the HITECH Act

Since its signing in 2009, several pieces of legislation have been passed that further expand upon the groundwork laid by the HITECH Act:

  1. 21st Century Cures Act (2016): The 21st Century Cures Act has had a broad impact on healthcare policy, research, and innovation in the U.S. It provided funding for key initiatives such as the Cancer Moonshot program and the Precision Medicine Initiative. Among other expanded data requirements, the 21st Century Cures Act mandates that patients have easy and secure access to their health information, at no cost, allowing them to be more engaged in their healthcare decisions.
  2. Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) (2015): MACRA established the Quality Payment Program which rewards healthcare providers for delivering high-quality patient care through two tracks - the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs). The MIPS track replaced three programs, including the Meaningful Use program initiated by HITECH Act, integrating them into one comprehensive program that emphasizes quality, cost, and the use of certified EHR technology in a meaningful way that improves patient outcomes.
  3. HIPAA Safe Harbor Law (2021): This law, an extension of the HITECH Act, brought the HIPAA Privacy Rule into compliance with current data security and privacy laws. Among other expanded requirements, the new law requires healthcare organizations to provide timely breach notifications to patients and regulators. It also provides more flexibility for providers when disclosing information in response to a patient’s request for their health records.

Navigating Healthcare IT Compliance

Navigating the complexity of healthcare IT compliance can be a daunting task, as regulations like the HITECH Act, HIPAA, and others have created a complicated framework of stipulations for the industry. Balancing the necessity of data accessibility with stringent data protection measures, all while keeping pace with technological advancements, continues to challenge the resilience and adaptability of healthcare providers.

With Provisions Group, your healthcare facility can be on the cutting edge of patient care, offering the critical infrastructure and compliance audits necessary to provide secure data access and resources to support medical and hospital staff. We’ll bring our 20 years of knowledge as well as our trusted advisors, architects, engineers, consultants, strategists, and administrators to formulate and implement new technologies that complement your existing investments. Schedule a 15-minute call today.