We all know people who, faced with the sparsest of ingredients, can whip up a gourmet meal. Then there are those who enjoy a pantry full of the finest spices but can't make even the best cut of steak taste good. It's the same way with information technology and patient safety. The latest and greatest clinical IT systems have the potential of improving clinical care, but only in the hands of people who know how to use them. Such IT systems in and of themselves are useless without skillful providers and willing patients.
The glue connecting information technology and patient safety is the human element, and several new surveys have uncovered that sticky situation.
Modern Healthcare, which publishes Health IT Strategist along with its sister publication, Modern Physician, conducted a poll of readers on patient-safety issues. We asked readers to rank the developments that will have the greatest impact on improving patient safety over the next five years. With an average score of 4.26 (on a five-point scale), the increased use of information technology was ranked by readers as the development that holds the greatest promise to improve patient safety. Tied with IT at an average score of 4.26 was patient education. As tech-savvy as our readers are, they gave equal weight to patients. Learning more about their own health and about how to better use the healthcare system holds as much promise as IT in making patient care safer, according to our readers.
Another survey to detect the importance of the human element that connects information technology and patient safety was conducted by PHNS, an IT consulting company. The firm surveyed 150 female hospital chief executive officers on their thoughts about information technology and patient safety. The respondents were asked what they believe is the most important change a hospital can make when it comes to increasing patient safety. Only 9% cited "implementing the proper technology." But 51% picked "changing and monitoring the culture of the organization," and 43% named "training and educating staff" as the most important change in making a hospital safer for patients. Would male hospital CEOs answer the same way? I don't know, and PHNS didn't ask them. But from at least this group of top-level hospital executives, it's clear that information technology is powerless to improve care without changes in an organization's culture and the proper training and education of people who use the technology.
So, before making that huge investment in a new clinical or financial IT system, make sure you have the right people in place to manage it, and make sure you teach both staff and patients how to use it.
Speaking of people power, if you haven't seen reporter John Morrissey's byline lately, it's for a good reason. He's taking some time off to help develop a national strategy for increasing the adoption of IT in the healthcare system. On Nov. 1, Morrissey started a two-month fellowship in Washington at HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, assisting National Coordinator David Brailer, M.D., and his staff. Morrissey has covered healthcare IT for Modern Healthcare since 1993, and the agency wanted to tap his expertise on IT trends in the private healthcare sector to help it with its charge. In turn, Morrissey will bring his experience working for the government back to Modern Healthcare readers on Jan. 1, 2005, when he rejoins our reporting staff in Chicago. Please join me in congratulating him on his appointment. HHS couldn't have made a better choice.
Morrissey also is one of the many reasons that Health IT Strategist -- or HITS, as we like to call it -- is a hit. As we put this final issue of 2004 to bed, I'm proud to announce that we have surpassed the 5,000-subscription mark in the eight months since HITS debuted. That's a phenomenal start for a publication, especially an electronic magazine -- the first of its kind published by our parent corporation, Crain Communications. In addition to Morrissey, I'd like to extend special thanks to reporter Joseph Conn, who covers physician IT issues; Katherine Downing, copy editor/webmaster; Julie A. Johnson, copy desk chief; and Keith Horist, assistant managing editor/graphics. They form the nucleus of our 28-member editorial staff that brings you Health IT Strategist each month. We look forward to bringing you 12 exciting issues again in 2005. Thank you.