Sat, Mar 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The delayed promise of healthcare IT

If the US is any indicator, the sky is the limit when it comes to potential gains from healthcare IT — the Institute of Medicine says the US wastes more than US$750 billion a year on unnecessary or inefficient services

By Art Kellermann and Spencer Jones

Other industries, including banking and retail trade, struggled with IT until they got it right. The gap between what IT promised and what it delivered in the early days was so stark that experts called it the “IT productivity paradox.”

Once these industries figured out how to make their IT systems more efficient, interoperable and user-friendly, and then realigned their processes to leverage technology’s capabilities, productivity soared.

In the US, as in much of the world, healthcare is late to the IT game and is experiencing these growing pains only now, but healthcare providers can shorten the process of transformation by learning from other industries.

The US government is trying to help. In 2009, the US Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

HITECH has undeniably accelerated IT adoption among healthcare providers, yet the problems of usability and interoperability persist.

Globally, the healthcare IT industry should not wait to be forced by government regulators into doing a better job. Developers can boost the pace of adoption by creating more standardized systems that are easier to use, truly interoperable and which afford patients greater access to and control over their personal health data.

Healthcare providers and hospital systems can dramatically boost the impact of health IT by re-engineering traditional practices to take full advantage of its capabilities.

If the US is any indicator, the sky is the limit when it comes to potential gains from healthcare IT. According to the US Institute of Medicine, the US currently wastes more than US$750 billion per year on unnecessary or inefficient healthcare services, excessive administrative costs, high prices, medical fraud and missed opportunities for prevention.

Properly applied, healthcare IT can improve healthcare in all of these dimensions. The payoff will be worth it. Indeed, as with the adoption of IT elsewhere, we may soon wonder how healthcare could have been delivered any other way.

Art Kellermann is chair in policy analysis at the RAND Corporation. Spencer Jones is an information scientist at the RAND Corporation.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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