Health IT still far from its potential

A couple of weeks ago, we referenced both the 1991 Institute of Medicine report, "The Computer-Based Patient Record: An Essential Technology for Health Care" and President George W. Bush's 2004 call for interoperable EMRs. Last week, Computerworld brought up these two pieces of history in benchmarking the slow progress in health IT.

"While there are many success stories, progress in using IT to improve patient care and cut costs has been slow. Research suggests that healthcare IT has a long way to go to match the hype," the magazine notes. "Not all healthcare providers have electronic records, many organizations can't share their records with other facilities unless they're affiliated with one another, and even those that can share with others outside their networks often have translation problems because there's no single data standard to facilitate the smooth transfer of information."

Nineteen years after the IOM report and 11 years after publication of the seminal IOM tome on medical errors, "To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System," many top health IT professionals still are talking like we're still in the early stages of health IT delivering on its potential to save lives and cut costs. "This is really going to take a lot of work and a lot of evolution. It's going to take a little bit of carrot, a little bit of stick and time to get there," William Spooner, CIO of Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, tells Computerworld.

"Getting hospitals to start using EHRs is critical," adds Ashish Jha, associate professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Paper-based medical records lead to hundreds of thousands of errors each year in American hospitals and probably contribute to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. This is not acceptable. There is overwhelming evidence that EHRs can help, yet the expense and the disruption that implementing these systems can cause has forced many hospitals to move slowly."

Health IT won't realize its full potential until analytics software can mine EMR databases to identify trends and help clinical leaders refine best practices, but interoperability and patient trust stand in the way. "[S]till unresolved are questions about how patients' records will be handled--and how they want their records handled," Computerworld reports. "Should they be able to opt into a system of shared electronic records, or should they have to opt out? And who will be the owners and custodians of the information--the patients themselves, or the caregivers or facilities that created the data?"

Even with federal incentives to adopt health IT, it could take 10 to 15 years before health information exchange is widespread, according to Dr. Peter Gabriel, director of informatics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's Department of Radiation Oncology.

To learn more:
- read this Computerworld story

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