Business & Finance
02:07 PM
Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
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Editor's Note: IT: Good For What Ails You

Recently, my mother had surgery and was hospitalized for a few days. Shortly after the surgery, she was given some pain medication that caused an allergic reaction. Her doctor ordered a different drug that seemed to work just fine. But the next morning, when a nurse visited her room, he started to put the original pain medication into her IV. Luckily, my mother questioned what she was being given before there were any adverse effects. Sadly, though, tens of thousands of people die each year from medical errors--wrong medicines, wrong dosages, or incomplete patient data. The Institutes of Medicine estimates that there are 770,000 adverse drug events per year, and as many as 95% are preventable.

Fortunately, things are changing, driven by IT, such as bar codes, wireless systems, and remote monitoring. Government mandates are also pushing things in the right direction. The FDA has proposed putting bar codes on all drugs that would identify the product, its strength, and its dosage form. Of course, that will be effective only if hospitals deploy systems to take advantage of the bar codes. The potential outcome--fewer mistakes, shorter hospital stays, and significant cost savings--seem too big to pass up. And some hospital systems are already realizing those results (see "Mission: Critical" for more).

But much work needs to be done to develop systems that are standardized and interoperable, allowing medical-care providers to share information internally and collaborate externally, says Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital (see "Viewpoint: IT Standards Would Improve Patient Care"). Pardes estimates that integrating new medical technology systems adds 30% to the hospital's costs because they must be customized. Imagine the results of putting that money toward patient care.

Stephanie Stahl,

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