Many people don’t know that significant resources were devoted to the promotion of health IT in the stimulus law of 2009, also known as HITECH, as well as in the health reform law of 2010. These laws and the funds allocated by them represent a historic opportunity to transform health care so that it is noticeably improved in the eyes of consumers — the taxpayers who finance these initiatives.
The HITECH Act is the primary source for health IT funding over the next several years, and it also codified the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). ONC is the principal federal entity charged with coordinating nationwide efforts to implement and use the most advanced health information technology and the electronic exchange of health information. It does this through a federal advisory committee and workgroup structure headed by a Policy Committee and a Standards Committee, both of which assist ONC in drafting rules governing the implementation of HITECH.
HITECH provisions fall into two main categories: (1) "meaningful use" incentive payments; and (2) Office of the National Coordinator-led grant programs. These HITECH initiatives have already created significant momentum in health IT adoption.
Electronic health records (EHRs) are a critical component of redesigning our health care system — but simply automating how care is provided now will not result in better care. To encourage use of EHRs that directly benefits patients, the HITECH Act set up an incentive program for providers in the Medicare and Medicaid programs that will give bonus payments to doctors and hospitals that use EHRs to improve the quality of care, reduce medical errors and improve efficiency.
ONC was tasked with developing and overseeing a number of grant programs to provide essential support to providers and communities as they work to implement health IT.