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Basics of Health IT

The Government & Health IT

The Federal government does not dictate what system doctors or hospitals should use or even whether to use a health IT system at all. However, the government is involved because health IT supports cost-effective ways to improve the quality of care. The government’s role in health IT includes:

  • encouraging adoption,
  • supporting information privacy,
  • supporting research on the appropriate use of health IT; and
  • using health IT systems in government-operated hospitals.

The Government and Health IT: Encouraging Use, Protecting Privacy, Supporting Research

Research shows EHRs can save lives and save money. That’s why Congress passed a law called the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, giving hospitals and doctors together an estimated $20 billion to support their installing and using EHRs. Simply installing these systems is not enough to improve healthcare, any more than putting exercise equipment in your basement is enough to prove that you’re working out every day. Hospitals and doctors must demonstrate they are using EHR systems to actually improve care in specific ways that follow the strict guidelines established by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology also promotes the use of health IT in a way that improves care.

Protecting Privacy

You have clearly defined rights when it comes to protecting your health information, and these rights extend to electronic health information.

If you believe your health privacy has been violated, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a division, the Office for Civil Rights, to educate consumers about their privacy rights and enforce the rules.

For a more detailed discussion of your privacy rights, visit the Protecting Your Privacy & Security page on HealthIT.gov. 

Supporting Research

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is an agency within HHS that supports research to improve the quality of care for all Americans.  AHRQ and other agencies fund research to inform doctors and hospitals how to use health IT in a way that works best for them and their patients.  AHRQ’s National Resource Center for Health IT shares research findings, best practices, lessons learned, and funding opportunities.

Government Agencies Leading the Way: Using Health IT

The Veterans Health Administration, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that oversees the health care needs of our nation’s veterans, is the largest medical system in the United States. It is also one of the most technologically advanced, offering both an EHR and a PHR to its millions of users. Doctors throughout the VA use its EHR, known as VistA (Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture). VistA tracks information on the millions of veterans who receive care through the VA and features an e-prescribing component.

The VA’s personal health record (PHR), My HealtheVet, (pronounced “My Healthy Vet”) is based on the core belief that informed patients can make better health choices. The PHR is free to veterans and available 24/7, wherever there is Internet access. VA patients who register on My HealtheVet and complete a one-time, in-person authentication process can get wellness reminders, view appointments, and participate in messaging with their health care team.

The My HealtheVet PHR is being expanded with the Blue Button Initiative, which allows veterans and Medicare beneficiaries to download personal health information. Blue Button lets users get a copy of their own health information so they can better understand and track their health. If they choose, they also can also share it with their doctors or other people they trust. Other government agencies and private companies have started to use Blue Button, too.

Indian Health Service (IHS) also maintains an EHR for IHS, Tribal, and Urban (I/T/U) Indian health care facilities. This EHR, called the Resource and Patient Management System (RPMS), gives many of its facilities access to decades of personal health information and epidemiological data on local populations.

NASA has adopted an EHR system to better manage the health and safety of astronauts and other employees using the agency's occupational health clinics.