A Brief Primer To Health Information Technology

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Going to the hospital can be a challenging experience.  While a patient, we place our care, and our lives, in the hands of trained professionals.  While the individual expertise of the doctors is not in question, the means of recording, documenting, and sharing this information between health care practitioners has been fraught with difficulties.  Thankfully, there is a better way that removes a great number of the errors and problems that can occur in the health care setting.  Let’s take a moment to see how this is done by doing a brief review of health information technology.

What Is Health Information Technology?

According to The US Department of Health And Human Services (HRSA), Health Information Technology (also known as Health IT or HIT) is technology applied to healthcare.  More specifically, it is the application of more modern technology to help speed up the logging and retrieval of medical information.  The HRSA describes it as  “the application of information processing involving both computer hardware and software that deals with the storage, retrieval, sharing, and use of health information, data, and knowledge, for communication and decision making.  Simply put, HIT is all about handling patient information correctly.

Why Bother With HIT?

Health Information Technology has been shown on numerous occasions to dramatically improve the quality of care in hospitals.  A report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that in 2006, HIT helped to improve health care effectiveness and quality, reduce health care costs, prevent medical errors, decrease paperwork, ad expand access to affordable care.  A 2008 series of studies also showed that HIT could be incredibly effective at improving the overall quality of care in the hospital.  Viewed as one of the most promising tools in the health care system, HIT has the ability to help revolutionize how patient records are handled.

Impact & Concern

While the Impact of HIT is well known and even studied, there are certain complications that can result from this system.  As HIT is still in its relative infancy, issues that can arise often include things yet to be considered fully.  For example, a big problem that hospitals face is the threat of data breaches.  Information regarding patient rights is protected under HIPAA (also known as the Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act.)   Government regulations designed to protect records, HIPAA requires that all data that includes information on patient records be properly protected.  This means that pretty much all of HIT has to exist behind a firewall and be organized as sensitive, private information.

Two major issues develop from HIPAA and HIT.  They include breaches from within and outside.  Breaches from within include individuals without the proper access finding out information on patients that are not in their care.  This can result in a loss of patient privacy.  Breaches from outside include massive attacks on a hospital HIT system in order to steal, and sometimes ransom the information back to the hospital.  Doing so ends up putting patient records at risk and also manages to endanger the privacy of everyone at the hospital.

Changing To Meet 21st Century Needs

While there are a few important concerns, it is important to understand that HIT is constantly changing to meet the needs of those in the profession.  Making it possible for people to communicate about a patient while having access to the same information, providing uniform care has never been easier.  As seen in the numerous articles listed on CCHIT, the practical applications and potential of HIT is real.  All that is left is for professionals in the field to figure out what works in both securing the integrity of the information as well as the quality of the information in how it relates to patients.