HITECH stands for the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act. This legislation became law on February 17, 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It promotes the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology. This act represents one component of some of the most significant changes in the U.S. healthcare system within our generation.

The HITECH Act is currently reshaping the implementation and funding for the adoption of electronic health records within the U.S. Each physician is entitled to a maximum of $44,000 from Medicare over five years for the “meaningful use” of certified electronic health records, or EHRs, beginning in 2011. Medicaid eligible professionals are entitled to up to $63,750 over six years. Vendors of EHR systems are currently receiving meaningful use certifications so they can meet the need for their services.

There are three components to meaningful use, the first of which is using a certified EHR in a meaningful way, such as by e-prescribing. The second is using the technology for electronic exchange for health information to improve quality of care. Using EHR technology to submit measures like clinical quality is the third component. In a nutshell, providers must show that they are using certified EHR technology in a way that can be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Over the next five years, meaningful use criteria will be staged in three steps. By implementing EHR systems and exercising meaningful use, providers receive more than just financial incentives. Data and records are more readily available, errors in treatment are reduced, alerts and reminders can be established, and support is available for clinical decisions. E-prescribing and automated refills provide a convenience for both patients and physicians.

Each stage of meaningful use has certain requirements that apply to eligible hospitals, critical access hospitals, and providers. A certain number of objectives must be met by the relevant party in order to qualify for the incentive payments. For each year of participation, a party must demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record technology in order to qualify for the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

More information can be found on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Every U.S. citizen should learn more about the electronic health records migration because it impacts all of us. The landscape of healthcare is changing within our nation and it is an exciting time for everyone involved.