Geographic Variation in Health IT and Health Care Outcomes: A Snapshot Before the Meaningful Use Incentive Program Began

Publisher: Healthcare, vol. 3, issue 1
Mar 31, 2015
Catherine G. McLaughlin and Eric Lammers


Background The 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which includes the Meaningful Use (MU) incentive program, was designed to increase the adoption of health information technology (IT) by physicians and hospitals. Policymakers hope that increased use of health IT to exchange health information will in turn enhance the quality and efficiency of health care delivery. In this study, we analyze the extent to which key outcomes vary based on the levels of health ITness among physicians and hospitals before the HITECH and MU programs led to increases in adoption and changes in use. Our findings provide an important baseline for a future evaluation of the impact of these programs on population-level outcomes.

Methods We constructed measures of the degree of hospital and physician adoption and use (“health ITness”) at the level of the hospital referral region (HRR). We used data from the 2010 IT Supplement of the American Hospital Association (AHA) Annual Survey of Hospitals to capture hospital health ITness and data from the 2010 survey of ambulatory health care sites produced by SK&A Information Services for the physician measure. We conducted cross-sectional analyses of the relationship between market-level Medicare costs and use and three measures: (1) physician health ITness, (2) hospital health ITness, and (3) an overall measure of health ITness.

Results In general, greater levels of physician health ITness are associated with decreasing costs and use. Many of these relationships lose statistical significance, however, when we control for population and market characteristics such as the average age and health status of Medicare beneficiaries, mean household income, and the HMO penetration rate. Several of the relationships also change according to the level of hospital health ITness.

Conclusions Our findings suggest that greater levels of physician health ITness are associated with decreasing costs and use for a number of services, including inpatient costs and stays, imaging services, and lab tests, in 2010. Our health ITness and outcomes measures are aggregated at the HRR level; as such, these results do not suggest that the adoption and use of health IT by individual physicians or hospitals leads to decreases in costs or use for their individual patients. Nevertheless, these baseline findings provide important information to be considered in future research analyzing the impact of HITECH and the MU incentives.


Global Assessment of the Value of Health Information Technology and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Programs


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology

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Senior Staff

Catherine McLaughlin
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