Annual report shows Health IT dramatically improving quality of care

Since the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the health information technology (health IT) landscape has dramatically evolved, with hospitals and health care providers using health IT more than ever. In 2015, 96 percent of hospitals and 78 percent of physician offices used certified EHR technology. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) details the advancements made in the health IT landscape in its 2016 Report to Congress on Health IT Progress.

Reporting requirements

Section 13113(a) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) (P.L. 111-5), under the HITECH Act, requires HHS to submit to the appropriate committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate a report (1) describing the specific actions that have been taken by the federal government and private entities to facilitate the adoption of a nationwide system for the electronic use and exchange of health information; (2) describing barriers to the adoption of such a nationwide system; and (3) containing recommendations to achieve full implementation of such a nationwide system. This is the annual update to the previous submissions, which were released on January 17, 2012, June 21, 2013, October 9, 2014, and February 29, 2016.

HHS priorities

The progress of health IT allowed for a transition in focus for HHS to the seamless and secure flow of health information, or interoperability. The advancements set the foundation for delivery system reform, the Cancer Moonshot, combating the opioid epidemic, the Precision Medicine Initiative, clinical innovation, and protecting and advancing public health. HHS has focused on three priority areas:

  • promoting common standards to facilitate the seamless and secure exchange of data, including through the use of standardized, open application programming interfaces (APIs);
  • building the business case for interoperability, particularly through delivery system reform efforts that change the way CMS pays for care to reward quality over quantity of services; and
  • changing the culture around access to information through combating information blocking; ensuring that individuals know they have a right to access and transmit their health information and that health care providers know they must provide access to the individuals; and reminding health care providers that they are legally allowed to exchange information in the course of treatment or coordinating care.

Health IT changing the provision of care

The rapid adoption of health IT has facilitated increased use of functionalities that have real-world clinical impacts. These include clinical decision support, which can point health care providers to evidence-based clinical guidelines at the point of care, facilitate an enhanced diagnosis or treatment path, and alert providers to potentially harmful drug interactions. Hospitals and physicians have also gained the ability to exchange more electronic health information than ever, with 82 percent of non-federal acute care hospitals electronically exchanging laboratory reports, radiology reports, clinical summaries, or medication lists. Approximately 90 percent of hospitals reported that they routinely had clinical information needed from outside sources or health care providers available at the point of care. Notably, EHR systems have transformed the prescribing and dispensing of medications, with e-prescribing systems lowering costs, improving care, and saving lives by reducing medication errors and checking for drug interactions.

Increased access to health information

Digitizing the U.S. health system has empowered individuals to be more in control of their own health decisions. Those with electronic access to their health information can monitor chronic conditions, better adhere to treatment plans, find and fix errors in their records, and directly contribute their information to research. Today, 95 percent of hospitals have the capability to allow patients this type of access.