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: 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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