Billing and scheduling systems, electronic patient medical records and security software are important components of healthcare computing. But the future of information technology begins to shimmer with the rapid development of products designed to improve clinical efficiency and the quality of care. And it will downright glitter once the forces of clinical care, management and patient satisfaction converge in the name of quality improvement.
An encouraging sign is the recent partnership of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society with the Radiological Society of North America. The technology kingpins hope to integrate incompatible forms of information systems.
The HIMSS conclave last month in Orlando, Fla., showcased many new offerings that support medical decisionmaking. Computer-based products can detect infection, measure vital signs and monitor the use of drugs. But technology has little value unless caregivers use its benefits and accept its limitations. Moreover, training, leadership and commitment from clinicians is imperative if information technology is to realize its potential in healthcare.
Hospitals and health systems cited for their efforts in improving quality, measuring efficiency and melding information technology usually have two things in common: physician participation and unwavering encouragement from the chief executive officer. Call it an integrated outcomes strategy.
The Gartner Group, a leading information technology research and consulting firm, believes such a strategy can help healthcare organizations cut as much as 7% from their operating budgets while improving quality and patient satisfaction.
But it doesn't come easy. The blueprint requires management to replace the historic reliance on fiscal measures of success with a system that weighs clinical, patient and financial outcomes. Determined healthcare providers should base technology spending decisions on the ability to make that shift.