For the healthcare information technology (HIT) sector, the United States Supreme Court decision in June 2012 and the reelection of President Barack Obama this month mean the end to a paralyzing period of indecision and uncertainty. While there may be adjustments and refinements, technological progress in healthcare is definitely moving forward. As a result, there will be an unprecedented pace of technology and information security adoption in healthcare. And there'll be lots of great jobs for IT and IT security experts.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) established information security and privacy standards for the healthcare industry. However, until 2009, there was no real enforcement mechanism or audit processes. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 addressed this by requiring breach notifications, establishing penalties, and specifying enforcement procedures. HIPAA audits started in 2011. The other key requirement was the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs) and related HIT, health information exchanges (HIEs), and overall "meaningful use" of technology to improve patient care. These changes meant the healthcare industry needed to adopt technology and information security.
To assist organizations with the expenditures related to the implementation of HIT and information security, HITECH provided substantial reimbursements through the Meaningful Use EHR Incentive Program.
The HITECT Act, along with the healthcare benefits of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare), required the establishment of HIEs at the state level. This meant another wave of information technology and information security implementation across the United States to build health insurance exchanges at the state level. Some states like Maryland embraced the law and financial incentives to build HIEs and are on schedule to open the exchange in October 2013. At many other states, however, implementation has lagged. If states fail to build their own exchanges, the federal government will build one for them. There is no change in the White House, no expectation of change in Obamacare -- therefore, these states face real HIE deadlines.
With HIEs, individuals can compare and sign up for insurance benefits at competitive rates without going through an employer. This is believed to make it easier for many individuals to pursue self-employment or start small businesses.
Continued momentum in the implementation of HIT and information security should be welcome news for IT and IT security specialists as the job market for these employees will grow dramatically in the next few years.
However, before we begin to celebrate new IT jobs in the healthcare sector, one unusual condition that may force the holding pattern to persist for a few more months is the looming sequestration and its automatic cuts.
— Mansur Hasib has served in CIO/CISO and other leadership roles in the public, private, and education sectors.