Advances in health care information technology and greater use of electronic health records and digital tools will drive better decision making and improve patients' health, according to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana's chief medical officer.

Lead author Dr. Vindell Washington and co-authors Drs. David Blumenthal, Karen DeSalvo and Farzad Mostashari, all former national coordinators for health information technology for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, make this point and others in "The HITECH Era and the Path Forward." The article was published in the Sept. 7 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. 

The authors describe how the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, passed in 2009, led a majority of health care providers to implement electronic health records and digital data sharing. Washington and his co-authors also offer suggestions to continue advancing health care IT in the digital age.

"We are in position for a great leap forward in health information technology," Washington said. "A digital health system holds the promise of empowered patients and better-informed providers. Caregivers can work together to track patients' health outcomes and know if they are making progress. And better information lets health insurance companies and government programs that are spending health care dollars on behalf of members and citizens know they are purchasing services of high value. The bedrock of all of this is a robust health care IT infrastructure."

Washington cites the results from the Blue Cross's Quality Blue Primary Care program, where primary care providers can access claims data and work together, as an example of successful data sharing. The program has helped patients better manage conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and it is holding down costs.

For the complete New England Journal of Medicine article, click here.