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Highlights

Studies published by the Institute of Medicine and others have indicated that fragmented, disorganized, and inaccessible clinical information adversely affects the quality of health care and compromises patient safety. Health information technology (IT)--technology used to collect, store, retrieve, and transfer clinical, administrative, and financial health information electronically--is seen as a promising solution to this problem. Technologies such as electronic health records (EHR) and bar coding of certain human drug and biological product labels have been shown to save money and reduce medical errors. However, only a small number of U.S. health care providers have fully adopted health IT. Significant financial, technical, cultural, and legal barriers to the adoption of health IT exist. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as a regulator, purchaser, health care provider, and sponsor of research, education, and training, has been working to promote the use of IT in public and private health care settings. There is no comprehensive catalogue of HHS' health IT efforts, however, and little is known about the nature and extent of the legal barriers and HHS's efforts to address them. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, asked us to review HHS' activities to promote health IT. We examined the following questions: (1) What are the major HHS initiatives for promoting the adoption of health IT by public and private health care providers? (2) What are the legal barriers to the adoption of health IT by health care providers, and what is HHS doing to surmount them?

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