One year ago today, the American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) was signed into act. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which is part of ARRA, authorized the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to develop $2 billion worth of new programs to help providers become meaningful users of EHRs and to pave the way for the creation of an advanced electronic health information system. On top of the incentive program that will reimburse qualified physicians who purchase, implement and meaningfully use a certified EHR system, additional programs have been created, such as workforce grants and the establishment of Regional Extension Centers (RECs).
As the adoption of EHRs and other health IT surges, the need for a strong health IT workforce also grows. In response to this need, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced two additional grant programs to support the training and development of the health IT workforce. These programs are titled Information Technology Professionals in Health Care: Program of Assistance for University-Based Training Programs (University-Based Training Program) and Information Technology Professionals in Health Care: Competency Examination for Individuals (Competency Examination Program).
Just this week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Dr. David Blumenthal announced plans to establish nationwide Health IT “Beacon Communities.” $235 million dollars have been allocated to fund the program through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
The program’s mission is to accelerate the adoption of HIT, and prove its effectiveness in transforming the quality, efficiency, and financial viability of local healthcare systems. The initiative will distribute $220 million in grants among 15 selected U.S. communities. For the 36-month program, the communities will use these funds to build and strengthen HIT infrastructure and capacity for health information exchange. The federal government is communicating that extreme caution should be taken in building an infrastructure with strong privacy and security measures for data exchange. The 15 communities will receive an additional $15 million for technical assistance and program evaluation.