by Xiaoming Zeng, MD, PhD; Rebecca Reynolds, EdD, RHIA; and Marcia Sharp, MBA, RHIA
Health information technology (HIT) is being sought as one of the key elements to streamline the process of providing healthcare to improve quality and harness cost. It is hoped that HIT will lead to a more cost-efficient healthcare system than the current one. Surprisingly, there is no agreed definition of HIT in academic literature or government documentation. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act (a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) defines health information technology as “hardware, software, integrated technologies or related licenses, intellectual property, upgrades, or packaged solutions sold as services that are designed for or support the use by health care entities or patients for the electronic creation, maintenance, access, or exchange of health information.” It could refer to a broad base of information technologies used in healthcare from robotics surgery to chronic disease home monitoring devices.1 However, there is a consensus on the purpose of HIT as the use of devices for the management of information in order to ensure that it is available to the right person at the right time and place.2–4 HIT is the basis for a more patient-centered and evidence-based medicine with the real-time availability of high-quality information.5, 6 Despite the various interpretations of the scope of HIT, all healthcare stakeholders agree that it is the premise on which a 21st-century healthcare system in the United States must be based.7 HIT experts concur that the U.S healthcare system must widely adopt interoperable electronic health records (EHRs) with important components such as computerized physician/provider order entry (CPOE) and e-prescriptions to build a cost-efficient healthcare system.8–11 Health Information Management and Health Information Technology
The committee on professional development of AHIMA states that health information management (HIM) professionals are responsible for improving “the quality of healthcare by insuring that the best information is available for making any healthcare decision” by managing healthcare data and information resources.12 The professionals can be in charge of the services in “planning, collecting, aggregating, analyzing, and disseminating individual patient and aggregate clinical data.”13 In summary, HIM professionals are conventionally the business managers and custodians of data and information in healthcare.
An information system consists of four interrelated components—data, information technology, process, and users.14 HIM professionals’ traditional job roles make them the experts in managing data and processes in an information system. With the digitizing of information systems in healthcare organizations, the roles of HIM professionals have expanded into information technology (IT) and user support, which usually are the functions of IT supporting services. HIM professionals’ training and experience in the intersection of clinical and management sciences as well as their knowledge about data quality equip them with the capability to maintain the integrity and accessibility of health information, although they may not necessarily have the particular skills to support technical operations of a health information system. For example, HIM educational programs usually do not provide courses in computer science theories such as algorithms or formal methods.15
In a recent issue of the Journal of AHIMA, a practice brief defined the common ground between HIM and HIT in an electronic healthcare environment. The delineating line between traditional HIM and HIT professionals has been blurred by the convergence of their functions and reporting structures in the electronic healthcare environment. Three...