04 May Digital Healthcare Conference starts on a realistic note
Madison, Wis. — Information technology managers in healthcare received a heavy dose of reality about IT integration in their field during the opening session of WTN Media’s Digital Healthcare Conference.
The conference, which is being held May 3 and 4 at the Fluno Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, featured an opening panel discussion in which there was very little self-congratulation about how far the industry has come with information systems. Nor was there a cascade of naïve predictions of around-the-corner breakthroughs – just a sober assessment of the obstacles that still remain before medical professionals have the right patient information available at the right time in an electronic format.
The session centered on the theme of “Data Overload: The Quest to Deliver Knowledge,” and panelists included John Traxler, co-director for the medical informatics program at the Milwaukee School of Engineering; John W. Melski, clinical informatics medical director for the Marshfield Clinic; Gary Wendt, enterprise director of medical imaging and vice chairman of informatics at UW-Madison; and Jim Prekop, president and CEO of TeraMedica.
Moderator William Hendee, dean of the graduate school of biomedical sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin, spelled out the fundamental challenge facing IT managers in healthcare environments: how to develop information systems that enable medical professionals to get their heads around massive volumes of available data, and extract the patient information they need, when they need it.
“The challenge in the 20th Century was a deficit of patient information,” Hendee said. “The challenge in the 21st Century is a surplus of patient information.”
Compounding matters is the fact that the human brain, even a physician’s brain, cannot keep up with the exponential growth in medical knowledge that will occur in forthcoming years. “My ability, and the ability of most humans to memorize things has remained flat, but the medical knowledge that needs to be assimilated is increasing geometrically,” Traxler said.
Panelists stressed that IT integration is only part of the battle. To a man, they said physicians need interoperable IT systems that produce data they can trust when making patient-care decisions. Most said the high levels of abstraction needed to access relevant patient information probably requires a network architectural design that allows for standardization across the enterprise. “A lot of it is intelligent design,” said Melski, who quickly noted that he wasn’t endorsing a political point of view.
Wendt said sub-optimal medical care often is provided to patients because of the failure to access all the data necessary to make the right decision. Physicians need the ability to break down “silos,” which in the medical context are islands of information that have not been integrated with other sets of relevant information, including what Wendt called “medical priors.”
“It isn’t available side-by-side with other relevant information in a clinical context,” he explained.
Prekop said 60% or more of a system upgrade will consist of taking data out of one pocket and putting it in another pocket, “You have a lot of clinical systems out there, but you have to liberate the data,” he said. “The information has to be liberated to a common architecture.”
Panelists also stressed the importance of addressing cultural roadblocks within organizations, which they said are the most common reason that IT projects fail, and they noted the advantages of standardized medical terminology.
Dr. Barry Chaiken, chairman of the conference and associate chief medical officer for BearingPoint, sounded an optimistic note when talking about the doctors of the future. “I believe there is a way on the horizon due to the young medical students who are using technology in their daily lives in ways that we never did,” he said.