In an effort to bring hospitals into the digital age, a group of healthcare organizations and government agencies unveiled a national demonstration project this month to highlight how information technology can be used to deliver better care to consumers.
The project, called the Healthcare Collaborative Network, involves about 20 organizations. Among them are hospitals, payers, physician groups and government agencies, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The effort comes after years of hand-wringing over how the healthcare industry could make better use of information technology in operations.
While other industries have embraced IT networks, healthcare has been slow to adopt technology for a number of reasons, experts said at a one-day conference in Washington where the project was announced.
First and foremost, said John Lumpkin, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a lack of standards in the way the clinical data are stored has made providers wary of investing millions of dollars into such systems. Providers recognize that IT systems can save hospitals money in the long run by reducing medical errors, but more work needs to be done to adopt standards that are being created, other experts at the conference said.
According to a recent study by the Center for Information Technology Leadership, Boston, 190,000 hospitalizations resulting from prescription errors and 2 million adverse drug reactions could be avoided each year, saving $44 billion annually, by implementing the proper information technology systems.
"We can't live in an era where we can make financial transactions (on the Internet) ... but we can't do the same for healthcare," said Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, a private philanthropy that funds technology projects and a nine-month effort to find solutions to the IT gap that exists in healthcare. The Healthcare Collaborative Network grew out of that effort, called Connecting for Health. The Markle Foundation is providing funding for the network.
As part of the launch of the network, three providers-New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and the Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis-will be initiating a pilot program. The three will exchange data with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CMS and the Food and Drug Administration, using standards identified by Connecting for Health program.
"One of the reasons we have such screwed up healthcare is because the technology is so far behind," said Tom Scully, CMS administrator, who spoke at the conference.
In March, HHS and the U.S. Defense and Veterans Affairs departments announced they would begin using a set of uniform standards for the electronic exchange of clinical health information, marking the first time the federal government has done so.
Those who are part of the initiative said they are doing so to improve patient care.
"At a minimum we need to use more IT to reduce medical errors, save more lives and enhance our personal health," said Russell Ricci, general manager of IBM Global Healthcare Industry in Waltham, Mass. The participants in the test project are volunteers and are not being paid. They are not paying a fee to participate either.
The Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society, which is not part of the project, threw its support behind it.
"HIMSS applauds the Markle Foundation for bringing multiple stakeholders from the private and public sectors to the table, and for recognizing the value technology can offer to improving healthcare," said Dave Roberts, director of public policy at HIMSS. "HIMSS believes the big challenge is implementation, which the industry must address in order to make the electronic health record a reality."
Other hospital systems including MedStar Health, Columbia, Md., and University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, along with healthcare technology companies such as McKesson Corp. in San Francisco, are expected to become full members of the network during the summer.
The American Hospital Association said it was "absolutely delighted" by the recent announcement and the overall effort to standardize data.
"We have long thought there is an urgent need for IT standards in healthcare," said Nancy Foster, senior associate director of policy at the AHA.