ACA leading to lower costs and greater HIT adoption rates

Though the debate rages on in Washington, D.C., about the need for national healthcare reform, recent studies suggests that the Obama administration's signature legislation actually is benefiting American healthcare organizations and their patients. While there have certainly been areas where healthcare reform has lagged behind its predictions, various initiatives are revolutionizing the country's medical system in a number of positive ways.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has led to widespread adoption of health information technology such as electronic health records and mobile health applications. Furthermore, these HIT devices seem to be saving many care providers money while boosting their operational efficiency. That's not to mention the potential cost-savings offered by programs like the ACA's health insurance exchanges. As a result, an increasing number of reports are emerging about the positive impact of these healthcare reform initiatives.

EHRs cutting costs
According to Reuters Health, electronic health records are leading to moderate savings among the nation's medical practices. This information is based on research from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Michigan investigators found that doctors who employ EHR technology in their offices will save about $5 per patient every month.

The researchers analyzed data from three Massachusetts towns that had implemented EHRs in their local healthcare organizations for the study. This data was then compared to six other communities in Massachusetts that had not jumped on board with EHR technology as control groups. In total, the Michigan team looked at information on 48,000 patients handled using EHRs and 131,000 individuals using paper medical records.

While there are other complicating factors that can affect the cost-saving benefits of practices using EHRs, the researchers believe their study accurately reflects the advantages of such HIT.

"I think it's just important to keep in mind how hard it is to really move an entire health system from paper to electronic records. So when we looked at these practices, I think it's a successful transition they made but… I would emphasize these are early stage results," said lead study author Julia Adler-Milstein.

Telehealth growing in popularity
As an offshoot of EHR systems, telehealth technology is also becoming increasingly popular among the nation's healthcare organizations. According to Healthcare IT News, Missouri and Kentucky have recently thrown their hats into the ring to expand the scope of telemedicine in their states, as stated by the American Telemedicine Association. Both states have pushed for new legislation to help doctors be reimbursed by insurance companies and Medicaid when using telehealth systems to treat and communicate with patients.

"This is a true win-win scenario," said Jonathan Linkous, the ATA's chief executive officer, in a press release. "First, it is a big victory for patients in Kentucky and Missouri, who now have greater access to the best-possible healthcare. It's also a win for the treasury and taxpayers in those states, who will save significantly on public healthcare costs."

Kentucky will be making sure that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services compensate doctors for telehealth services related to an array of treatments, ranging from mental health evaluations to chronic disease treatments. Similarly, Missouri is enacting health legislation that will require insurance companies to cover telehealth practices just as they would for standard doctor's visits.

Missouri and Kentucky are just two of the latest entrants into the telehealth industry. Since 2013 began, New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Montana, Mississippi, Vermont and Arizona have also passed similar legislation to strengthen the presence of telehealth technology in their state healthcare systems.