Time to take IT infrastructure seriously

If two recent studies are to be believed, the industry may be on a collision course between IT's need for nuts and bolts hardware and clinicians' need to document, manage and improve clinical care. 

The studies, released by HiMSS and CDW Healthcare this week suggest that IT executives are facing record pressure to roll out new applications--while growing increasingly concerned that the guts of their networks aren't secure or robust enough for the task. While there's always some conflict between the need to improve and the need to keep the trains running, it's a particularly difficult struggle today.

On the one hand, it's no surprise that investments in clinical technologies, such as electronic medical records and computerized practitioner order entry, are big priorities within healthcare organizations. Not only do providers want to keep improving quality just to fulfill their mission, they're under considerable pressure from Medicare and private health insurance to prove that they're delivering the goods.

On the other hand, it's important for non-IT execs to understand that aging IT infrastructures may not be up to the demands of a string of new applications. Not only do these applications eat up computing resources, they also tax the data networking hardware that deliver the apps to users.

On top of that, with many of these new systems demanding mobile access, you're giving your IT department yet another resource- and staff-intensive project to manage, as mobility poses its own technical and staffing challenges. No matter how smart your IT people are, they can't switch packets by themselves.

All told, it's probably time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart on infrastructure investment--to think hard about how much performance you'll need. While budgeting for infrastructure isn't sexy, it's probably more urgent than you think. After all, it's no use to roll out that shiny new EMR if no one can use it. - Anne