15 May Will technology improve healthcare delivery?
We have the opportunity to transform health care and improve patient safety by better leveraging information technology to improve the efficiency, accuracy, and effectiveness of our healthcare system. But adoption has been slow, and the results have been mixed. If deployed incorrectly, without well conceived process improvements, IT systems can do just the reverse, leading to critical delays or mistakes. Cultural roadblocks within organizations are the most common reason that health care technology projects fail.
Governor Doyle declared May 1-7 Information Technology Week. During WTN Media’s 2006 Digital Healthcare Conference, which took place that week, speakers addressed several of the remaining barriers to implementing workable health information systems, and the ability to respond to pandemics. Doyle picked up on that theme in his keynote the following day at the Governor’s eHealth Summit.
Healthcare leaders called for a major shift in the ways physicians learn and deliver. They are being overwhelmed with more and more information, but are seeking the right information, in the right context, at the point of care.
Speaking before the group of healthcare professionals, Doyle said barriers like organizational jealousies and jurisdictional and proprietary boundaries historically get in the way of progress. “You’re not here to push anyone’s system aside,” he said. “Our goal is to make systems interoperable so that medical records can be transferred.”
The nation’s dysfunctional healthcare system may undermine any progress in patient care made possible by the adoption of electronic health records, according to Dr. Jeff Grossman, president and CEO of the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation. He outlined the remaining barriers to the adoption of secure, effective electronic health records. Grossman expressed his belief that the United States, the only major industrialized country without universal health insurance, has been too isolated in its approach to providing access to healthcare.
“The notion of comparative health systems is very important and is something to which we haven’t paid enough attention,” Grossman said. “We’ve been too isolated in this area, and we need to be more international in our thinking.”
“The challenge in the 20th Century was a deficit of patient information,” said Bill Hendee, dean of the graduate school of biomedical sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “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.
Dr. John Traxler, co-director for the medical informatics program at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, said, “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.”
“Sub-optimal medical care often is provided to patients because of the failure to access all the data necessary to make the right decision,” added Dr. Gary Wendt, vice chairman of informatics at UW-Madison.
Pandemic Flu: Will technology help?
The pending threat of Avian flu and its potential for catastrophic human mortality was a major theme at the conference. The prognosis was that we are not prepared. The experts said we are three years late in developing IT systems to help detect and mitigate the effects of a flu pandemic, which would cause significant social and economic disruptions before running its course.
For health professionals, one challenge will be preparing for the methodical erosion of their ability to maintain services as they become overtaxed.
Dr. Barry Chaiken, associate chief medical officer for BearingPoint, suggested that preparing a six-week stockpile of food, making sure your home’s water supply is secure in the event of an electrical failure, and establishing a common rendezvous point for loved ones and co-workers could do more in the way of prevention than Tamiflu or leveraging IT.
To view the recorded conference presentations, visit www.dhc2006.com/presentations.php