Robert Wood Johnson report identifies areas for HIT improvement

The American healthcare industry is undergoing a massive transformation as a result of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This landmark piece of healthcare reform legislation has generally worked to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of health insurance coverage for millions of Americans who may have otherwise struggled to pay for or even reach vital medical services. The ACA is still in the process of revamping significant portions of the healthcare sector and establishing new guidelines for greater accountability and efficiency in medical practices across the country, and there is still much work to be done.

One of the key ways the ACA has boosted healthcare operations in the U.S. is by encouraging doctors and healthcare organizations to adopt health information technology systems in their everyday practices. Through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' meaningful use incentive guidelines, healthcare professionals can earn federal reimbursements for purchasing and training staff members to use electronic health records and related technologies. While the CMS has certainly made strides in emphasizing EHR and HIT systems, a recent report indicated that further efforts are necessary for doctors and patients to reap the rewards of a digitized healthcare system.

Finding problem areas in HIT adoption
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released a study titled "Health Information Technology in the United States: Better Information Systems for Better Care, 2013," which was also supported by Mathematica Policy Research and the Harvard School of Public Health.

This report investigated the progress of EHR adoption throughout the healthcare industry and pointed out areas of concern or programs that need improvement. The foundation previously released a 2006 report covering the early days of EHR and HIT implementation, and this investigation served as a follow-up to that initial study.

The study investigators found that many organizations are only using basic EHR systems as opposed to more sophisticated models that can be applied to many areas of healthcare practices. In 2012, 44 percent were working with simple EHR systems, 27.3 percent were using intermediate level EHRs and just 16.7 percent had purchased comprehensive EHR technology.

Overall, the Robert Wood Johnson researchers indicated that the federal government needs to continue to emphasize the financial and operational advantages of employing comprehensive EHRs for greater adoption, while also providing tools and guidance on how to implement these technologies. 

Expanding the reach of EHRs
In addition to the need for greater government presence in spurring EHR adoption rates among the nation's healthcare providers, there are other issues the industry needs to address in relation to HIT systems. According to Renal and Urology News, areas of the U.S. with limited access to quality healthcare services are seeing some of the lowest adoption rates for EHRs. As EHR and HIT in general is meant to help bring healthcare to people who may have previously been overlooked by the system, such as people living in underserved regions of the nation. This information was taken from a study conducted by the ONC and published in the journal Health Services Research.

The ONC study found that adoption rates generally fell between 8 percent and 88 percent of healthcare organizations depending on the area surveyed. The highest EHR adoption success occurred primarily in urban centers, particularly along the West Coast and in the Northeast. By comparison, rural regions of the Midwest saw fewer EHR systems in their local medical practices.

Based on this research, it is clear that the federal government needs to focus its efforts on improving HIT presence in rural regions as it has successfully done in many major American cities.