What The Health Information Technology For Economic And Clinical Health Act Means For Healthcare

In February of 2009, President Obama signed into law a landmark healthcare reform bill, and included within it is the Health Information Technology For Economic and Clinical Health Act. This portion of the healthcare reform bill will  Newsrooms     .carequire that all healthcare providers switch over to electronic medical records, or EMR, by 2016. Like most of the controversial reform, it has drawn considerable criticism from politicians, insurance companies, and medical professionals over the intervening years.

What it Requires

The Health Information Technology For Economic and Clinical Health Act, despite all of its legalese, is quite simple to understand. At its heart, the sponsors of the healthcare reform simply wish for all healthcare providers to convert their current paper medical records files into digital electronic medical records so that they can be quickly shared with professionals that regularly require to see a patient’s files. Having every patient’s medical records in a shared electronic format would provide the basis for quicker diagnoses based on their medical history, quicker treatment, and reduce the chances of error that can occur when trying to decipher a faxed copy of a paper record.

It would also allow insurance companies easier access to their client’s medical records, with limitations. If done properly, all confidential information would stay confidential, and only released to those with the proper access. But, like all new ideas, change encourages fear and feuding political parties have fed that fear, to the point that many hospitals and doctors in private practices have been dragging their heels about converting their records over to the new digital format.

Reasons Against Converting

The primary fear shared by medical professionals and their patients is that their private medical information will no longer stay private under the digital format. In the days of hackers freely running rampant throughout corporation computers and selling private information this may have been true, but in the 21st century, security screens have successfully kept hacking to a minimum, nationally. The last few reported cases of company-wide identity theft occurred because thieves physically stole hard drives, not because they hacked in and stole individual files. The Right to Privacy Act, instituted years ago, does protect individuals from having their medical records published, and any violations involving digital records would be covered under that Act. The patients have a right to question the security of their files, and if their caregivers have taken the correct measures to secure their files, they will be secure. They are only meant to be transmitted to recognized physicians, and even the access of insurance companies will be limited.

The second biggest reason physicians and hospitals give against converting medical records over to an electronic format is the manpower and time needed to do so. Regardless of monetary incentives provided under the Act for both Medicare and Medicaid participating organizations and doctors, the claim is that it would be too expensive to bring their computers up-to-date to handle the digital conversion, and to pay someone to covert all of their files to the new format.

The Benefits of Conversion

With the traditional paper system, individual patient records can be very time consuming to compile and update, and just as hard to track down when needed. With electronic medical records, all that information will take only seconds to locate, and could mean the difference between life and death if the patient is receiving care somewhere other than their home hospital, or even within it. Copying and faxing paper copies could lead to a misinterpretation of what is written within them, especially if the printed quality is below standard.

With electronic medical records, everything that the physician needs is right there on the screen, clear and easy to read. This format should cut down on the hazards of medical errors, like giving the wrong prescription, administering the wrong dosage, or inadvertently using a drug that the patient is allergic to. The patient’s entire medical history is available, and should make treatment faster and more efficient. The Health Information Technology For Economic and Clinical Health Act aims to improve the quality of care, without compromising their privacy.


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