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HITECH Act has driven EHR adoption, researchers conclude

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
HITECH Act has driven EHR adoption, researchers conclude

The rapid adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems by hospitals and private practices over the past decade has been fueled primarily by federal legislation, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Harvard conclude that “recent gains in EHR adoption can be attributed specifically to HITECH,” the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 designed to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology.

So successful has HITECH been in driving EHR adoption, the researchers write in the online medical journal Health Affairs, “the act could serve as a model for ways to drive the adoption of other valuable technologies.”

There has been considerable debate about the role HITECH has played in EHR adoption because “only short-term acute care hospitals were eligible for the act’s meaningful-use incentive program,” according to Julia Adler-Milstein, an associate professor in the School of Information and School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, and Ashish K. Jha, a professor of international health at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

The researchers said they used “national hospital data to examine the differential effect of HITECH on EHR adoption among eligible and ineligible hospitals in the periods before (2008–10) and after (2011–15) implementation of the program.”

“We found that annual increases in EHR adoption rates among eligible hospitals went from 3.2 percent in the pre period to 14.2 percent in the post period,” they write. “Ineligible hospitals experienced much smaller annual increases of 0.1 percent in the pre period and 3.3 percent in the post period, a significant difference-in-differences of 7.9 percentage points.”

The percentage of hospitals and office-based physicians using EHRs has soared over the past decade, from less than 10 percent in 2008 to more than 90 percent in 2017.

Legislation submitted to the U.S. House over the summer aims to encourage EHR adoption among behavioral health providers, which were not covered under the HITECH Act. 

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