The Ultimate Guide To Understanding The HITECH Act

what is the hitech act

In the rapidly evolving realm of healthcare, one legislation stands out for its transformative influence: The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. This comprehensive guide will take you through the nuances of the HITECH Act, highlighting its objectives, impact, and how it continues to shape the future of healthcare delivery.

What Is The Hitech Act In Healthcare?

What Is The Hitech Act In HealthcareSo, what exactly is the HITECH Act in the realm of healthcare? In essence, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act is a piece of U.S. legislation enacted in 2009, under the broader framework of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Its primary purpose was to accelerate the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and related technology nationwide.

Beyond simply promoting technological advancement, the HITECH Act also addressed the mounting privacy and security concerns that come with the electronic exchange of health information. It fortified the established rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), providing an extra layer of protection for sensitive patient data.

In other words, the HITECH Act not only propelled the healthcare industry into the digital age, but it also ensured that this transition was conducted with the utmost respect for patient privacy and data security. It’s a key piece of legislation that continues to shape the way health information is managed and protected across the United States.

Why Is The Hitech Act Important?

Why Is The Hitech Act ImportantThe HITECH Act is a critical landmark in the healthcare industry’s history, serving as the foundation of today’s advanced health information technology infrastructure.

  • Promotion of Electronic Health Records (EHRs): The HITECH Act has been instrumental in encouraging the transition from traditional paper records to EHRs. This digital transformation has not only streamlined the medical record-keeping process but also facilitated a more efficient and accurate exchange of patient information among healthcare providers.
  • Enhancement of Patient Care: By promoting the adoption of EHRs, the HITECH Act has led to significant improvements in patient care. With comprehensive and up-to-date patient information at their fingertips, healthcare providers can make more informed decisions, reduce medical errors, and ultimately deliver better patient outcomes.
  • Strengthening Data Privacy and Security: In the era of digital data, maintaining the privacy and security of patient health information is paramount. The HITECH Act has fortified the existing HIPAA regulations, introducing stringent protections for electronically stored health information and escalating penalties for violations. This has led to enhanced trust in digital health records and greater compliance with data privacy laws.
  • Financial Incentives and Penalties: The HITECH Act cleverly uses financial incentives and penalties to drive the meaningful use of EHRs. Providers who effectively use certified EHR technology receive rewards, while penalties apply to those failing to comply. This has accelerated the adoption of EHRs across the healthcare sector.

The 5 Fundamental Goals of the HITECH Act

The HITECH Act was constructed with five core goals that underpin its mission to transform the healthcare industry into a more effective, efficient, and patient-focused sector. These goals represent the roadmap for the Act’s intended impact on health information technology.

  • The primary aim of the Act is to accelerate the widespread use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs).
  • To use EHRs to improve the overall quality and efficiency of healthcare services.
  • The third goal is to bolster the security and privacy protections for patient data.
  • The Act’s fourth goal is to promote the ‘meaningful use’ of EHRs. Healthcare providers must meet specific objectives to demonstrate effective use of EHRs for enhancing healthcare delivery.
  • Leverage EHRs to improve public health outcomes and facilitate health research.

Who is Bound by the Legislation?

The HITECH Act’s provisions extend to a broad range of entities involved in the handling and management of patient health information. Understanding whether the Act applies to you is a critical first step in ensuring compliance.

  • Covered Entities: The HITECH Act, like the HIPAA, applies to covered entities. These include healthcare providers, health plans like health insurance companies, and healthcare clearinghouses that process nonstandard health information.
  • Business Associates: A significant expansion brought about by the HITECH Act is the direct applicability of certain HIPAA rules to business associates. These are third-party service providers who access, transmit, or store protected health information on behalf of covered entities. Examples include billing companies, EHR providers, and IT contractors.
  • Health Information Exchange Organizations: These organizations manage the exchange of health-related information among various entities, adhering to national standards.
  • EHR Vendors: Providers of EHR technologies also come under the purview of the HITECH Act. They must adhere to the Act’s standards and certification criteria to guarantee the privacy and security of health information.

Mandating HIPAA Compliance for Business Associates under HITECH Act

HIPAA Compliance for Business Associates under HITECH ActThe passage of the HITECH Act in 2009 marked a significant turning point for business associates in the healthcare industry. This crucial legislation expanded HIPAA’s strict requirements to business associates, transforming patient health information management and protection.

  • Direct Liability for Compliance
    Prior to the HITECH Act, business associates were not directly liable under HIPAA regulations. With the enactment of the HITECH Act, they became directly accountable for compliance with certain HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. This includes mandatory adherence to safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI.
  • Breach Notification Responsibilities
    The HITECH Act ushered in a new era of accountability with the introduction of the Breach Notification Rule. The primary objective of this rule is to enable swift action, minimizing the potential damage caused by the breach. Furthermore, it ensures that the necessary notifications are made to the affected individuals and the HHS, reinforcing transparency and upholding the principles of patient rights.
  • Increased Penalties
    The Act significantly escalated the potential penalties for HIPAA non-compliance. Business associates could face penalties of up to $1.5 million per year for violations of an identical provision, thereby highlighting the importance of full compliance with HIPAA regulations.
  • Agreements with Subcontractors
    The HITECH Act also extended the HIPAA rules to subcontractors of business associates. Business associates must sign agreements with subcontractors, mandating their adherence to HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.
  • Audits and Enforcement
    The HITECH Act authorized the Office for Civil Rights to perform audits, ensuring business associates’ compliance with HIPAA rules. This has led to increased scrutiny and enforcement of HIPAA rules among business associates.


The Act has played a transformative role in shaping the landscape of health information technology. By broadening HIPAA’s scope, enforcing stringent rules, and increasing penalties, the Act ensures robust, comprehensive patient data protection. As we move further into the digital age, adhering to these regulations is no longer just a legal necessity.

However, navigating the complexities of compliance can be challenging. If you are looking to implement any of the Infosec compliance frameworks such as SOC 2 compliance, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and GDPR compliance, Impanix can help. Book a Free consultation call with our experts or email us at  [email protected] for inquiries.