The Hippocratic Oath might not mention technology, but as today's physicians seek to "prescribe regimen for the good of patients," healthcare organizations are finding that a dose of technology may be just what the doctor ordered for improving patient care.
With healthcare reform now one of the nation's top priorities, healthcare organizations are seeing increased pressure from consumers to improve healthcare quality and drive down costs. With more and more exposure to technology in our day-to-day lives -- from personal computers and high-speed Internet connections to personal digital assistants and iPods -- today's patients expect a certain level of tech-savvy from their healthcare provider.
To meet these growing demands, hospitals are investing in information technology to enhance the care their patients receive through bolstering productivity, streamlining operational and administrative systems, and gaining increased control and insight into patient data. In fact, Gartner Dataquest estimates that by 2006, spending on healthcare IT will reach $47.9 billion, with a 7% annual growth rate.
While there is no doubt the industry is spending, technology for technology's sake is not the answer. Chief information officers still need to be very practical about what they spend money on. As the CIO of Genesys Health System, I have worked with IBM to align IT infrastructure with the needs of our on-demand business.
It is important to remember that you don't get cost savings just by implementing new systems but by eliminating old ones. For example, Genesys recently did away with making and sending copies of paper medical charts and moved to generating charts digitally. Now, medical charts and documents from multiple departments are available in one place, which eliminates lost or illegible files and puts critical patient information in physicians' hands faster. As many as 100,000 documents per month -- including digital captures of handwriting, X-rays and other charted data -- are available online.
The switch provided Genesys with a better way to automate the flow of information among departments. Before, an employee would have had to physically move the medical chart from the emergency department to inpatient care and into the physician's hands -- a much more costly, inefficient system. Eliminating inefficiencies through technology has had an enormous impact on the bottom line. Within 18 months, our IT projects resulted in a one time-savings of $250,000 and an ongoing $1.9 million annual savings.
But it's more than just dollars and cents. Since physicians now have a central repository from which to access their charts at all times, they are better able to quickly respond to changing patient needs with appropriate treatment, counsel and/or hospital release. Many doctors are even making drug recommendations from home, allowing patients to get their medication several hours faster. This means faster recovery and a reduced length of stay for patients.
This prescription for technology is still tough medicine for many physicians to swallow, however. Despite the clear benefits, physician buy-in remains one of the major challenges to the success of new IT projects. Traditionally, physicians have not been trained in business operations, but as today's healthcare system grows increasingly complex the business side has a direct impact on patient care. IT is at the core of business processes and physicians must embrace it to deliver the highest value to their patients.
Many physicians, however, see a new system as a daunting task that will take precious minutes from their already hectic schedules. The trick in a successful rollout is anticipating the resistance and proactively addressing the most common concerns.
The first hurdle to overcome is to clearly communicate how technology helps to align what is important to the physician with what is important to the organization as a whole: the patient. For example, faster and more comprehensive delivery of patient data directly affects the speed and accuracy with which physicians can diagnose patients. Once that value is clearly communicated and backed up with empirical data, the physician is likely to respond more positively to the system.
The second hurdle to keep in mind is that there will be a large range in the levels of computer literacy across the clinical staff. Some may catch on quickly and be eager to move on to the next step, while others will still be overwhelmed and uncomfortable at the onset. The reality is, there is no one size fits all solution. CIOs must work with their organizations to target diverse pockets of users in a way that will minimize their discomfort and allow them to more quickly see the value of the new system.
Technology has clearly emerged as an important tool in the transformation of the healthcare industry, but it is innovative business processes that will be the true driver. I always say that at the end of the day it isn't an IT project, it's an on-demand business project with an IT aspect. Our real challenge is to bring business discipline to our industry and to continue to tap into technology to further our goal of improving patient care.
Dave Holland is vice president and chief information officer of Genesys Health System, Grand Blanc, Mich.