HHS touts big strides in health IT adoption

By Mike Miliard
02:36 PM
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The number of hospitals using health information technology has more than doubled in the last two years, said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday.

Speaking at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley Health Science Institute in Kansas City, Sebelius also unveiled new data showing that nearly 2,000 hospitals and more than 41,000 doctors have received $3.1 billion in incentive payments for ensuring meaningful use of health IT, particularly certified electronic health records.

“Health IT is the foundation for a truly 21st century health system where we pay for the right care, not just more care,” said Sebelius. “Healthcare professionals and hospitals are taking advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to begin using smarter, new technology that improves care and creates the jobs we need for an economy built to last.”

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The announcement today detailed information from a new survey conducted by the American Hospital Association and reported by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), found that the percentage of U.S. hospitals that had adopted EHRs has more than doubled from 16 to 35 percent between 2009 and 2011.

In addition, 85 percent of hospitals now report that by 2015 they intend to take advantage of the incentive payments made available through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

The announcement also highlighted new data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) detailing $3.12 billion in incentive payments the agency has made to physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers who have started to meaningfully use EHRs to improve the quality of patient care. In January alone, CMS provided $519 million to eligible providers.

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New jobs in the making

Sebelius also touted health IT's potential  to create jobs nationwide. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of health IT jobs across the country is expected to increase by 20 percent from 2008 to 2018 – a pace much faster than the average for all occupations through 2018.

In conjunction with her announcement today, Secretary Sebelius will tour the Penn Valley Community College Health Science Institute, which trains students for careers in this growing industry.  She will also participate in a roundtable discussion with Community College leaders, students training in the health IT field, healthcare providers, patients and area employers about the importance of health information technology training in both improving patient outcomes and creating jobs.

To meet the demand for workers with health IT experience and training, the Obama Administration has also launched four workforce training programs. Training is provided through 82 community colleges and nine universities nationwide. As of January 2012, more than 9,000 community college students have been trained for health IT careers and another 8,706 students have enrolled.

And as of this month, participating universities have enrolled more than 1,200 students and graduated nearly 600 post-graduate and masters-level health IT professionals, with more than 1,700 expected to graduate by the summer of 2013.

Two other workforce training programs have resulted in the development of a health IT workforce curriculum and a health IT worker competency examination, say HHS officials. The health IT workforce curriculum offers colleges and universities in all 50 states innovative health IT teaching materials at no cost to instructors. And, since its release in May, 2011, more than 2,000 individuals have taken the HIT Pro Exam, a competency examination designed to show employers that job-seekers have attained a proficient level of knowledge and skills in health IT.