Poor health IT productivity can be overcome, researchers say

Health IT systems can be made more productive, but only if the products and the health care delivery system itself are re-engineered, according to a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors note that health IT, similar to IT in other industries, suffers from a "productivity paradox" in that productivity decreases when IT is first adopted, mainly due to mismanagement and poor design and usability.     

"Healthcare professionals are tempted to simply digitize paper-based workflows, but swapping out the medical record cabinet and prescription pad for a computer is proving insufficient to realize the benefits of health IT," the authors said. "Instead, newly IT-enabled processes that support teamwork, care coordination, and innovative approaches such as interactive patient portals have the potential to yield greater convenience, access, and quality for patients and physicians at a lower cost--the definition of greater productivity."

The authors warned that health IT systems risk failure if usability isn't addressed, and recommended that the end users of health IT systems should be involved in "every phase" of health IT product development.

They pointed out that several institutions have been successful with 'homegrown' products that incorporated user-centric designs and that commercial vendors will also need to do the same. They also acknowledged that the process may take years.

This is not the first time that industry leaders, from providers to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, have expressed concern about the current design and usability of health IT products, even as HHS presses forward with the EHR incentive program and other  initiatives that require providers to use health IT.  

To learn more:
- here's the article
- check out these physicians' concerns
- read about NIST's concerns