The potential of Internet-related technology is intoxicating to healthcare information professionals, but the obstacles to delivering it are enough to sober them up in a hurry.
Eight in 10 respondents to a new survey expressed some level of commitment to implementing a data-delivery system that would connect all types of computers and their databases using "browser" technology created for the global Internet and World Wide Web.
But in the poll, the computer pros also said they realize the telecommunications foundation of provider networks must first be significantly upgraded to make such "intranet" networks viable in a demanding medical operation, said Richard Howe, president of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.
The HIMSS and Hewlett-Packard Co. co-sponsored the eighth annual survey of trends in healthcare computing, which gathered the opinions of more than 1,200 attendees at last week's HIMSS conference and exhibition in San Diego. Total attendance was slightly more than 16,000, officials said.
Scores of computer-related companies on the exhibition floor rolled out products and services to match attendee interest in Web-derived innovations. The technology offers a low-cost shortcut to extracting data from previously incompatible computer hardware and software and delivering the information to any computer powerful enough to handle a Web browser.
Respondents named physician offices the area most in need of computer technology, and Web-derived technology has been targeted as a natural for bringing outside information to doctors, Howe said.
Nearly 90% of respondents said they use the Internet, primarily for e-mail and access to research and educational information. E-mail is a low-cost solution to simple communication with physicians, but complex files of medical data and images are another matter, said Howe, a vice president with Superior Consultant Co.
"The problem with the Internet is it's overloaded and slow," he said. Before the technology can carry the weight of a data network, healthcare systems will have to upgrade the speed and peak capacity of the lines that carry the messages from one place to another.
And that's just for the institution's private network. To get data outside the campus requires banks of telephone modems that most hospitals don't have. Physician offices and other outlying sites all must have the same capacity, including sufficient power in their personal computers. "There are still a lot of physicians who have old PCs out there," Howe said.
Asked to name the two most important priorities for information systems, 28% of respondents identified upgrading infrastructure and 24% targeted integration of systems that use products from multiple vendors.