Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership
11:29 AM
Rebecca Armato
Rebecca Armato

Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior

Anyone who deploys tech "solutions" without reconsidering workflows and policies -- and doing other heavy lifting -- is in for a rude awakening.

If you believe everything you read and hear, technology is the Holy Grail of our industry. It will "fix" just about everything that's broken in healthcare. That's a presumption fueled by human nature: Gravitate toward simplicity and immediate gratification. Technology is tangible, something we can install, turn on and it works.

But what exactly should we expect from this working technology? Have we done a thorough job of defining what we want to accomplish and then addressed all of the components that go into ensuring we succeed?

Hospitals and physicians focused only on the Meaningful Use bull's-eye when implementing technology will experience a grave letdown when they turn "it" on and discover technology alone isn't their savior. Anyone who deploys technology without reengineering workflows, redefining job duties, readdressing policies, revisiting best practices and refining business arrangements could find that the cost exceeds the Meaningful Use incentive funds and that the technology will fall far short of delivering Meaningful Value. Unfortunately, these same organizations will be quick to point out that the technology "didn't work."

"Right care, right place, right time, right quality at the right price" requires us to think differently. It requires a disciplined focus on the long-term goal while executing on the short-term tasks, all while avoiding the distractions that come with the hype around technological solutions.

[ Want your patients to take more control of their healthcare? See 7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement. ]

Imagine an electronic health record (EHR) as you would an automobile. You must know what you'd like the automobile to do in order to know which ones to consider. A rancher doesn't buy a Porsche to haul hay.

We expect carmakers to deliver vehicles that work when we turn them on. But from the moment we drive one off the dealer lot, if we don't know where we're going, or we haven't been trained to drive, or we drive distracted or impaired, or we're unaware of our surroundings, or we don't respond fast enough when a child or animal darts out in front of us, we're going to end up in the wrong place or in an accident. How far off course we end up and how much damage we cause will depend on the level of our neglect, incompetence and recklessness.

Staples Easy Button

When it comes to mishandling EHRs and other technology implementations, we're not completely to blame. Vendors are sending the message that their technology will solve all of our problems, and with all the challenges we face in our industry, we want desperately to believe them. I have a red Staples "Easy" button that I hit when I'm feeling particularly challenged, but I know that success with healthcare technology will never be as easy as installing it and turning it on.

We must address head-on all of the other areas: redesigning workflows, reengineering thought flow, finding usability tricks, adopting business arrangements that understand our surroundings and adjust to our conditions. We must avoid the misperception that technology makes all things possible, requiring data and reports that aren't technically possible with the technology we've adopted. If we don't, we will set up our organizations with unsustainable processes that cost more than we can afford and don't deliver the outcomes and quality we've committed to delivering to our communities.

The right way isn't always the easy way. Success requires leadership, vision, focus, drive and hard work -- all of which are within our control. With the right mix of people, process and technology, we will make tremendous advances and be able to focus on improving the health of our communities rather than just providing sick care.

We must continuously monitor our efforts and develop better tools and smarter processes. By infusing clinical decision-making with instantaneous "smart information," physicians are better equipped to collaborate, diagnose, treat and accelerate the medical breakthroughs necessary to improve not just our industry, but our world.

Have you ever experienced a time when you were driving and all of a sudden you looked up and for an instant had no idea where you were or how you got there? Is that the fault of the car manufacturer? Don't get complacent or distracted. Hard work pays off. Apply the right balance of people, process and technology necessary to succeed.

As large healthcare providers test the limits, many smaller groups question the value. Also in the new, all-digital Big Data Analytics issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Ask these six questions about natural language processing before you buy. (Free with registration.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2014 | 8:37:14 AM
High Tech + High Touch
Fortunate will be the patients who proactively utilize appropriate tools to optimize their health and have trusted relationships with experienced, skilled professionals that can interpret and offer guidance. 
Fortunate will be the health professionals that strike a healthy balance between the benefits of technology with the importance of addressing the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of being human that can't be addressed by technology alone. 
Unfortunate are those that think the best outcomes are primarily derived from more technology, data and better algorithms. 
Unfortunate are those that fail to see the value and importance of emerging information technologies. 
Success will come to those having the wisdom to appropriately combine high tech with high touch.

Overconfidence in intellectual-technological solutions to complex challenges leads to dehumanizing and obsolete rules. 

Humility combined with respect for human ingenuity and creativity yields faith in the potential for new technologies to yield progress.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/25/2013 | 10:11:54 PM
re: Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior
What a well-written, articulate synopsis of many of the problems facing healthcare today! Thank you for the article, Rebecca. Unfortunately, the constraints put upon healthcare from coding to Meaningful Use timelines, seem to be counterproductive to the evolution of what will actually work in real life.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/27/2013 | 7:35:41 PM
re: Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior
Rebecca, what a perfect article and timing. As I continue to research software, mobile apps, tablet apps, you get my point here. All anyone is talking about is the APP and how its changing everything. What everyone is forgetting is the PROCESSES, the WORKFLOWS, and the people. A mobile app is not the end to our problem. Its probably the beginning if everyone doesnt stop and look at the rest of the process. Before anyone even attempts to create a mobile app they need to be looking at the process and workflow. A mobile app is a BUSINESS, it IS NOT a application that runs its self. Look at all the successful apps today...they are changing, updating, fixing, all the time. A mobile app is a business that needs support, maintenance, education, documentation, marketing and LUCK right now.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/21/2013 | 7:01:47 PM
re: Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior
I completely agree with you Rebecca. Better technology alone will not be enough for an institution to succeed in their goals. They need structure and need to set out plans and foundations so they can then mold the technology to serve their purposes. Attesting for MU shouldnG«÷t be the only goal, the ultimate goal should be to provide better, safer care for all patients.

Jay Simmons
Information Week Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2013 | 1:37:29 PM
re: Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior
Great article, Rebecca. This is a great example of why I strongly feel that IT requires a business purpose. As you said, people think IT will save us all. But I like to add that if the "business" is not directly tied to the IT initiative, you end up with a system that does not match the business. The data and process flow of the system MUST match the business process it is designed to help and/or augment.
User Rank: Author
3/14/2013 | 7:48:40 PM
re: Technology Alone Isn't Healthcare's Savior
This is such an important message, Rebecca, thanks for sharing it. Standardizing workflows and processes to make effective use of technology will be a painful process, but it'll also be one that separates winners and losers, since those who do the process work well will be able to deliver better care cheaper. It reminds me in some ways of when I was covering the automotive industry in the early '90s, watching auto parts makers revamp their work using "total quality management" and continuous improvement to survive as carmakers demanded better quality at ever-lower costs. Healthcare will never be manufacturing, and shouldn't be, but there are lessons to be learned in terms of process discipline and continuous improvement.
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