Health information technology (health IT), or the exchange of health information in an electronic environment, allows the safe and secure sharing of health information as it passes between consumers, providers, insurers and government entities.
Health IT has been on the government radar since at least 2004 when George W. Bush signed the President’s Health Information Technology Plan. This executive order established a ten-year plan to develop and implement electronic medical record systems across the United States. Bush was motivated by studies that showed adoption of health IT could save the healthcare system more than $81 billion annually. Beyond the dollar figure, health IT has the potential to reduce adverse healthcare events and can help improve care quality.
In 2009, the Obama administration provided another boost to health IT, $19 billion aimed at helping healthcare providers shift from paper to electronic medical records. Since that time, the number of hospitals using electronic health records jumped from 9 percent to more than 80 percent.
The digitizing of health records boosts healthcare efficiency by giving doctors instant access to data about patients, including diagnoses, medications, test results, procedures, and potential gaps in care that need to be addressed, Needless to say, this level of efficient information access is virtually impossible when this same information is jammed into vanilla folders in the offices of individual doctors and hospitals. In this case, physicians duplicate tests and sometimes perform unnecessary procedures to arrive at conclusions that are already known.
Beyond efficiency and patient safety, the move towards health IT has spurred a host of new tech startups. Since 2010, more than 30 apps have been developed to do everything from helping patients find the best healthcare providers to enabling hospitals to understand healthcare patterns across communities. A company called Eviti used analyses of health IT to lower costs and improve outcomes for cancer patients by determining precise combinations of drugs and radiation. The startup Teladoc schedules appointments for remote patients to fit with unused sliced of doctors’ time. Lumeris uses real-time data about a patient’s care to improve medical decision-making and cost-savings. Along with dozens of other health IT companies, these startups are helping deliver improved care to more people at a better price.