The HITECH Act - Zupnick Associates

(by: #lilac)


What is the HITECH Act (and Whence Was it Borne)? 

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was part of a bigger plan to invest back into the economy, and improve the overall healthcare system through improving the tech.

By encouraging wide adoption of digitization of paperwork, and a shift to digital processes, the healthcare industry was able to move from the 90’s to the 21st century (irony intended). 

Why, Though?

Beyond a simple “we needed money”, the investment into technology for the healthcare industry strengthened HIPAA (since digital is much easier and accurate to track) and security surrounding patient confidentiality. 


Furthermore, the HITECH Act improved mortality rates for those in critical conditions, with access to only minimal resources (read: poor people). Seemingly simple conveniences, like the ability to send life-saving information from one place to another within fractions of seconds, could now be benefited by all; therefore, improving mortality for more people. 


The list of benefits for improved technology in the healthcare industry are endless, and increasingly nuanced. What’s important is that over a decade later, generations of lives have been, and continue to be improved by the HITECH investment.

Numbers Don’t Lie

According to The HIPAA Journal, “While many healthcare providers wanted to transition to EHRs from paper records, the cost of making such a change was prohibitively expensive. The HITECH Act introduced incentives to encourage hospitals and other healthcare providers to make the change. Had the Act not been passed, many healthcare providers would still be using paper records. 


The Act increased the rate of adoption of EHRs from 3.2% in 2008 to 14.2% in 2015. By 2017, 86% of office-based physicians had adopted an EHR and 96% of non-federal acute care hospitals has implemented certified health IT.”


What Is HIPAA?

To create some context around HIPAA… The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is a federal law that was passed by congress in 1996, that prevents sensitive / medical / personal information from being shared by healthcare providers, of their patients. 


Highlighted by the California Department of Health Care Services, HIPAA carries out the following functions: 

  • Provides the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage for millions of American workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs,
  • Reduces health care fraud and abuse,
  • Mandates industry-wide standards for health care information on electronic billing and other processes, [and]
  • Requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information 


Whom The Two Acts Protect

According to the U.S. DHS & CDC, The HITECH Act in accordance with HIPAA, and covers the following categories of entities: 


  • Healthcare Provider. The category includes doctors, clinics, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, nursing homes and pharmacies. 


  • Health Plan. Health plans include health insurance companies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), company health plans and government healthcare programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and military healthcare programs.


  • Healthcare Clearinghouse. Healthcare clearinghouses are entities that process nonstandard health information they receive from another entity into a standard format or vice versa. Examples include billing services and community healthcare systems for managing health data.


All personally identifiable health information held or transferred by a covered organization, or a BA, is protected under the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This data can be stored in a variety of formats, including digital, paper, and oral, but cannot be shared, as articulated above.


PHI can include, but is not limited to, the following information: patient’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, biometric identifiers, or other personally identifiable information of a patient (PII).


It also includes a person’s physical or mental health status in the past, present, or future.


However… Be Warned, Employer:

Employment records, including information about education, as well as other records subject to or defined by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), have no restrictions on its use or disclosure. 


Employment records have been deemed unprotected, as they do not provide enough information to be able to medically identify an individual. 

Given the language of PHI’s standards, your employees may not know their information is not necessarily protected, and would certainly appreciate the disclosure. 


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