One of the elements of the 2009 stimulus that I’m the biggest fan of is the HITECH Act, which provides billions of dollars for healthcare IT. This is part of the “Reinvestment” portion of the stimulus; it didn’t start pushing out money right away (although hiring, including my job, picked up pretty quickly in order to prepare for it) but will end of saving money (and lives) in the long run.

The HITECH Act provides funding, through increased Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements, for hospitals and clinicians to make “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHR). There’s a stick aspect as well; providers who don’t use a certified EHR will eventually find their Medicare payments reduced. Research shows that using an EHR results in better patient outcomes and helps drive down costs, but the startup costs (in terms of both buying the EHR and training staff to use it) can be significant; the HITECH Act aims to have the federal government cover the majority of the cost.

Until I started working in healthcare IT, I wasn’t at all familiar with this stuff, even though it’s a huge deal in healthcare (my doctor in Colorado was still using paper). It’s a great example of how government investment now can improve quality of life for millions of people while paying for itself in the long run. Given that I follow politics pretty closely, I assume that many people are similarly unaware of EHRs, which is why I wrote Healthcare in the 21st Century, a non-political book that explains what EHRs are, the benefits and challenges of using them, and the ‘meaningful use’ requirements of the HITECH Act.