Run, don't walk. That's the marching order for many industry executives seeking to computerize information on clinical and financial performance throughout their healthcare networks.
Some institutions are proceeding pell-mell because they believe organizations that are first to provide the most complete performance data will snag the most managed-care business, helping to ensure their future survival.
While their business motivations may be sound, many executives are overlooking a key challenge: Failure to provide adequate attention to privacy and security of patient medical records could make the backlash over managed-care coverage denials seem like a walk in the park.
Introducing new technology without institutional re-engineering to establish proper safeguards could jeopardize an organization's image as a community resource. Savvy providers will lay the groundwork for the new technology by addressing such issues as who gets access to information, where, and for how long, and how and when to surround sensitive data with a protective bubble.
Furthermore, providers' concerns can't stop at their institutional boundaries. Because medical information frequently goes outside the organization to utilization review firms, attorneys and others, helping ancillary data users avoid improper disclosures of sensitive medical information is imperative.
A recent report by the National Research Council has raised public awareness of this issue while reminding providers that action is needed quickly. Health insurance reform has stepped up the timetable for establishing medical confidentiality standards and creating a universal identifier for patient records.
Executives can properly address the issue now or wait for public outrage to culminate in intrusive government-mandated requirements. The choice should be easy.