The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act has been called the most significant legislation to ever address health information technology, but it is no cure-all, say many physicians.  The legislation, which was signed into law as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on February 17, 2009, provides $19 Billion toward acceleration of the adoption and use of electronic health records and information technology. Nevertheless, there are some doubts that this influx of federal funds will result in the effective use of HIT to track quality and outcomes, and to communicate effectively among hospitals, physicians and other providers to coordinate a patient’s care.

On March 25, 2007, the New York Times reported on two forthcoming articles which will appear in the New England Journal of Medicine that cast doubt on the current level of HIT utilization, and caution that uniform standards and open software platforms may be required to facilitate the interconnectivity and innovation needed to make HIT effective. See Doctors Raise Doubts on Digital Health Data. Pouring money into existing, proprietary software with fixed capabilities, portability barriers and upgrade/expansion limitations would be a costly policy mistake, according to the NEJM article by Boston HIT experts Dr. Kenneth D. Mandl and Dr. Isaac S. Kohane.

These concerns were echoed at a recent IT forum in Washington, D.C., hosted by IBM and the eHealth Initiative. Dr. Doug Henley, executive vice president with the American Academy of Family Physicians, was reported in InfoWorld as emphasizing the need for “data liquidity,” and ensuring the easy transfer of health care data among health care providers and between providers and patients. Kevin Hughes MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, cited the need to improve software interfaces to remove redundant data entry as a way to induce physicians to want to use HIT systems.