As electronic health record (EHR) requirements and more stringent enforcement of HIPAA privacy laws go into effect, the demand for professionals to help guide practices in this brave new world is rising.
One of the reasons for the demand is found in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH Act for short. Passed as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), this legislation accelerated the creation of EHR systems among healthcare providers. Its offshoot is growth in the healthcare technology field as professionals in areas such as research informatics, IT, electronic medical records and other related disciplines find themselves in high demand.
A Closer Look at HITECH
The HITECH Act brings with it a number of key aspects that are driving the demand for IT-related professionals within the healthcare industry.
Some facets that are of great importance to medical practices include:
- Enhanced HIPPA enforcement: The new HITECH Act promises more rigorous enforcement of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). The legislation includes mandatory penalties for “willful neglect.” Penalties can be expensive: as much as $250,000, with repeat or uncorrected violations carrying fees as high as $1.5 million. State attorneys general still will be responsible for bringing cause of action, but Health and Human Services is now legally bound to conduct audits of entities covered under the act as well as related business associates.
- Breach notifications: The HITECH Act requires practices to notify patients of any unsecured data breaches related to Protected Health Information (PHI). If a breach affects 500 or more patients, HHS must also be notified. Notification requirements are triggered whether the breach occurs internally or externally.
- Electronic Health Record Access: The act requires patients and designated third parties to be given access to their PHI in an electronic format. This applies to providers who have implemented an EHR system.
- Policing business associates: Under the HITECH Act, business associates are now required to comply with the measures provided for in the HIPAA Security Rule.
Impacts on Employment
As the provisions of the HITECH Act go into place, the demand for skilled labor in the healthcare IT industry is growing. Some market analysts anticipate more than 50,000 new jobs over the next five years while some place those projections even higher. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the healthcare industry to become the “largest employing major sector” during the next decade as it strives to keep up with new regulations.
The HITECH Act itself allots $25.9 billion for the expansion of healthcare IT, and it’s showing in the growing demand for professionals. Some of the top jobs include clinical research informatics, IT specialists, electronic medical records administrators and graduate program directors.
The field also is potentially lucrative. According to the American Health Information Management Association, mid-range salaries for health informatics consultants are in the upper $80,000s. Those in management can earn salaries as high as $200,000.
Students interested in taking advantage of the doors opened by the HITECH Act are urged to conduct their own research. Job availability and salaries may vary based on position, employer and geographical location.