From the managed-care front, healthcare executives have their orders:
Shut down excess capacity.
Consolidate steps in care delivery wherever possible.
Get physicians to change the way they practice medicine.
Senior executives may have a good grasp of their mission, but many don't fully realize the extent to which information technology can help them accomplish it, says Jack A. Newman Jr., senior vice president of Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based information systems and services company.
"In our industry, information technology has been primarily used to process transactions and update the general ledger," Newman says. That's important, but it's mainly a tactical use of power in an age of product innovation, he says. Information systems can facilitate fundamental change for the better if understood well and used right.
Newman says there are at least four major areas of benefit from computerization. He'll elaborate on those benefits in a seminar scheduled for 2 p.m. to 5: 30 p.m. Monday, March 3.
He'll be joined by Peter W. Butler, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
Executives can start now to harness the power of available technology without feeling overwhelmed, Newman says. Universally accessible e-mail is one important step, not just for the written word but also to attach files such as spreadsheets or graphical presentations and transfer them throughout the organization.
Effective use of computer power requires linkages, particularly with physicians but eventually to healthcare purchasers and in homes where care is being delivered and monitored.
If senior executives make these linkages a priority, Newman says, it will pave the way for targeted delivery of knowledge and take much of the guesswork out of diagnosis and treatment. Executives who ignore the potential will forfeit an edge, and their physicians will be practicing an obsolete form of medicine, he says.
"In a matter of perhaps 36 months, we will look back and not be able to believe how many physicians had not been connected electronically," Newman says.
Along with embracing technology's potential, executives "have to demand benefits," he adds. "The use of information ought to eliminate steps in a process."
Information systems should dramatically enhance standardization of processes, which reduces costs and potentially improves quality of care, he says. For example, organizations should be able to consolidate four labs into one, or go with one definition of a complete blood workup.
And physicians who now make decisions based on experience and memory should have a wealth of specific patient data and broad medical knowledge at their command to make better decisions, Newman says.