What Is Health IT?

Health IT, or health information technology, refers to the multitude of technology tools used by physicians, nurses, health administrators, patients, insurance companies, government entities and others to compile, store, analyze and share health information. Health IT tools include electronic health records (EHR), personal health records, electronic prescription services, health-related smartphone apps and more.

For decades, the basics of patient care revolved around a generally accepted series of medical steps: evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.

Today’s healthcare is using a new ally to improve how patients feel by considering much more than their present condition.

Health information technology, or health IT for short, is now widely used by doctors, pharmacists and other providers to identify both short-term and long-term improvements to patient care.

Health IT, which encompasses an array of medical information specific to individual patients, encourages direct communication between providers to assess all facets of a patient’s life, from diet and exercise to genetic predisposition, in order for them to better evaluate and advise.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was passed in 2009 to promote the meaningful use of health IT. Since then, more and more providers across the country have adjusted their traditional collection of patient information from paper records to electronic data.

This migration has allowed health professionals to easily access patient information regardless of their location and even outside of normal clinic hours, and to share that knowledge with others currently providing care. And it has drafted patients into the process, by giving them more authority and immediate interaction with their own personal health records.

Even prescriptions, once dependent on paper, now are transmitted electronically between doctors and pharmacies to allow for improved efficiency and fewer dosage errors.

For more on what health IT is, check out this video from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, the nation’s leading government agency dedicated to the development of health IT initiatives.

More Than Just Records

The records themselves, however, are just one spoke in the health IT wheel.

In order for the information to be uploaded, accessed, analyzed and shared, there must first be a repository where that data will be sent. Health IT also encompasses the design, creation and maintenance of that central hub.

It’s not as simple as creating and opening a shared file or folder, however. Records systems must be able to communicate with one another to allow for exchange of information, which means that even minute details such as medical coding must be adjusted to ensure uninterrupted, universal access.

Further, electronic health records include more than just paper documents. There are medical images, previously maintained exclusively by radiology departments, that must be properly formatted in order for various IT systems to receive and interpret.

And once all the various health records are received, they must be maintained and stored securely to prevent any breaches of privacy.

Even digital messages, such as email and chat logs, are stored within health IT. Plus, the day-to-day operation of healthcare — the financial and administrative functions such as scheduling and billing — also fall under the health IT umbrella.

Public Demand Fuels Tech Push

As technology has improved and expanded, the ability and demand for individuals to access their own personal information, as well as the ways in which they do that, has changed.

Many Americans own a home computer, but nearly two-thirds of all U.S. citizens have a smartphone or portable electronic device that allows for instant access to the Internet.

The multitude of potential access points is helping shape how healthcare providers understand and address this patient-driven need. By allowing patients to assume the role of steward of their own medical data, the system eliminates previous restrictions that inhibited direct communication and consultation.

More and more companies, such as Apple, Microsoft and even new start-ups, are heeding the public call for improved access by designing digital applications, enhanced data storage options and better security features.

Health IT Generates Job Growth

One benefit of the recent surge in health IT is a tremendous number of new job opportunities for which healthcare providers are finding a shallow talent pool to pick from.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that through 2024, the need for medical and health services managers will grow by 17 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual salary reported by the BLS is $94,500.

To understand, implement and maintain electronic record systems, providers need a variety of workers to fill positions in:

  • development
  • analytics
  • coding
  • research
  • meaningful use compliance

Health information management jobs typically oversee the entire system process and its day-to-day operation. But once the data has been received, skilled professionals are required to analyze it and advise employers on how to consistently update and improve their respective systems.

Coding experts are required to help spur the transition from individual records systems to a central, national hub by assisting in changing medical classification codes that could otherwise interrupt the transfer of data. Estimates have placed the number of new codes that need to be initiated at more than 130,000.

Meaningful use specialists assist providers in complying with and adhering to federal guidelines for records collection and sharing, as well as digital security to protect patient confidentiality.

Educational Requirements

In order to be considered for a career in the Health IT field, interested applicants should have a degree, ranging from an associate’s to a master’s, along with required certification from the American Health Information Management Association, according to an article on the website.

Because health care information technologists are responsible for working within strict legal and ethical guidelines for the handling and storage of confidential medical records, entry-level positions require a minimum of at least a postsecondary certificate and completion of a professional certification exam, according to the article.

The article also stated that in order to advance within the field and qualify for administrative and management positions, undergraduate and graduate degree program completion is required.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a medical records and/or health information technician is $37,110 in May 2015.

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