National Research Council’s Report on Health IT—It’s All Good (hopefully)…

While some of us health care information technology folks were initially rather bowled over by this report upon its release, given its less-than-glowing assessment of how health IT has directly impacted the provision of care, a closer read and some time for reflection offers some very positive opportunities.

This report is one of those watershed reports that I believe we will be hearing about for some time. It is authored by credible individuals in the industry and examined the practices of academic medical centers renowned for their clinical excellence. It, by no means, sounds a death knell for health IT or pronounces health IT to be ineffective in its quest to improve outcomes. Quite the contrary, it speaks ardently to the potential of what health IT can offer, and offers a roadmap (one that many of us actually intuitively buy into) as to how to take health IT to the next level.

We have done quite well as an industry in deploying hospital-based EMRs in key care settings. We have realized incremental value from these EMRs but still, as we know, haven’t been able to make great strides in sharing this data with whatever caregiver a patient may come in contact with (including some caregivers, oftentimes, within the same institution!). The medical information stored in an EMR is only as good as a caregiver’s ability to actually access that information. For competitive reasons, funding reasons, or all manner of other types of reasons, we can all acknowledge that data exchange has not taken off in this country and that we are the worse for it. Doctor offices, clinics, rehab and other sub-acute and long-term care facilities often do not have access to key information that exists that is critical to treating a patient, despite all the technological advances we have experienced over the past few years.

Recognizing the potential significance of the ascension of Barack Obama to the Presidency, with his emphasis on the importance of health IT; perhaps this report can be the catalyst for action, funding, and concerted effort with regard to health information exchanges and “second-generation” benefits of health IT on a societal scale!

The report also provides some patient-centric insights about how technology can empower the patient – we would do well to be mindful of and try to act upon these “out of the box” ideas (such as automatic “pill counters”).

Technology is only as good as the willingness and ability of the key stakeholders to use it to its fullest! Ease of use and perceived direct value are critical.

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