Health Care And Charities Get An IT Wake-Up Call - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure
11:13 AM
Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl

Health Care And Charities Get An IT Wake-Up Call

I know it sounds a bit clichéd, but many industries and businesses had a wake-up call following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. For the airlines, it was the need to tighten security in airports and aboard planes; for the federal government, it was the need to provide data integration among various law-enforcement and intelligence agencies as well as the airlines; for the health-care industry and charitable organizations, it was the need to improve IT infrastructure and collaborative technologies to deal with the mammoth task at hand. And for businesses of all kinds, it was the need to establish or improve business-continuity plans.

In this week's issue, we bring you up to date on several fronts. The anthrax scare has highlighted how woefully behind the health-care industry is in establishing an IT infrastructure that's capable of efficiently handling a bioterrorism crisis. On page 52, senior writer Marianne Kolbasuk McGee examines what the industry needs to do to cure its IT ills.

That's not to suggest there isn't innovation among health-care providers or that the industry is resistant to sharing information. But when given the choice to use precious budget dollars to buy a piece of medical equipment (which not only provides a new level of care for patients but also generates revenue) or to purchase IT systems--well, you can guess which one wins. And while information sharing certainly exists, it's largely done by phone, fax, and mail.

On page 20, senior editor Diane Rezendes Khirallah takes a look at how those who are so used to giving out help now need some help when it comes to technology. Charitable organizations--many of which have old IT systems with limited functionality or no IT systems at all--are struggling to handle a flood of donations and requests for help from families that lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks. The American Red Cross in New York is coping with about 23,000 new clients needing assistance, an overwhelming number of donations, thousands of volunteers, and computer systems and applications that weren't designed to handle such a crisis.

There are efforts to get the situation under control and to ensure that everyone gets the right amount of assistance. Under consideration is a central database that would be used by dozens of charities to consolidate the application process, track which families are getting what kind of assistance from which charities, cut down on fraud, and monitor the charities to ensure that the money is being distributed properly.

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