As the massive expansion of healthcare information systems capacity gets into high gear, the focus has been on buying the right pieces and justifying their multimillion-dollar price tags.
In 1996, look for the focus to shift from getting information systems to getting information.
Market forces and healthcare measurement efforts in 1996 will accelerate the demand for all kinds of data, both for internal improvements and to satisfy those who pay the bills.
It'll become apparent to providers why they need that hot software, and the realization may come in a cold sweat.
Driving the clamor for information will be purchasers of care, from corporate giants such as GTE Corp. and Xerox Corp. to the Medicare and Medicaid managed-care efforts of HCFA and the states.
They'll want to know what kind of healthcare results they're getting for their money, and they'll want their money's worth.
Outcomes measurement, up to now a search for useful data scraps among heaps of confusing medical-speak, will come into its own.
Much of that refinement will be fostered by an outcomes-minded overhaul of the Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set, or HEDIS, anticipated at year-end. Other purchaser/consumer efforts, such as the Foundation for Accountability, will be campaigning for proof of quality.
It's a whole new approach in which data on rates of surgery and percentages of mammogram screening aren't enough. Health plans will be asked to marshal data on the results of that surgery and screening. Did the patient get better? Did providers identify a serious disease in time to treat it?
That's not to say data on screening rates and surgery procedures won't be important to providers. They'll need all that and more to track their costs of caring for people under contract to health plans, and to improve clinical procedures to produce better outcomes.
When the pressure to produce good performance hits-and it will hit this year-providers won't have to be persuaded to build information systems. It'll be obvious why they need them.
They'll need to manage scheduling of patients and resources, or else providers will lose money through inefficiency and their patients will blow off steam on questionnaires that get back to payers.
They'll need to manage fixed reimbursements from purchasers and parcel out the lump sums to their physicians and healthcare partners, or else they'll run short before the next payment or their physicians will run to where the financial situation is better.
They'll need to monitor the results of treatment for certain conditions and use those results to develop better medicine, or else their outcomes won't measure up and health plans will walk away.
It will come down to a scramble for information needed to keep healthcare organizations competitive. Specialized software and hardware will be logical means to that end.