Health-Care CEOs Take Strong Hand In Technology - InformationWeek

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Health-Care CEOs Take Strong Hand In Technology

It's not only CIOs who champion the transformation of health care through technology. Some of the nation's leading health-care CEOs also are strong advocates.

It's not only CIOs who champion the transformation of health care through technology. Some of the nation's leading health-care CEOs also are strong advocates, pushing for the adoption of IT to improve costs, efficiencies, and the quality of care at their companies and nationwide.

"While almost every other industry critical to the American economy has undergone some form of systematic, data-supported, quality-improvement process, health care is woefully behind the curve," said George C. Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in an E-mail interview with InformationWeek.

Kaiser Permanente, an integrated health plan that encompasses the nonprofit Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and their subsidiaries, and the for-profit Permanente Medical Groups, serves more than 8 million members in nine states and Washington, D.C. The organization is spending $3 billion to build databases and deploy the technology necessary to improve care processes, as well as to care for individual patients under an initiative called KP HealthConnect.

KP HealthConnect links clinical information, pharmacy and lab data, billing, appointments, decision-support tools, medical best practices, and more. "This gives more support to doctors with each patient and helps to create a clear picture of care," said Halvorson, a frequent lecturer and writer on health-care topics. Major parts of the system already are live in all Kaiser Permanente regions, and Halvorson anticipates the implementation to be complete near the end of 2006.

At New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, which includes New York-Presbyterian Hospital, technology is pervasive. "We're taking IT and applying it all over the place," says president and CEO Dr. Herbert Pardes. "It offers us help in a million different ways." Those efforts include clinical systems under development that will alert infection-control nurses when conditions in the hospital could lead to a possible disease outbreak--before patients actually get sick. The hospital also is deploying a new patient-monitoring system that provides ICU staff with electronic updates comparing the recovery progress of surgery patients to the expected milestones they should reach, so that any necessary intervention can happen more quickly.

"The health-care industry is under enormous pressure," Pardes says, adding that some estimates indicate that up to 70% of hospitals are in the red. He's confident that IT can transform health care by improving efficiencies, cutting costs, and reducing medical errors.

Pardes has some company: The U.S. government estimates tens of billions of dollars can be saved annually nationwide through the deployment of technology such as electronic medical records and computerized drug-ordering systems. These advances can provide doctors with more timely information and red-flag potential patient safety problems, such as medication allergies and interactions, before a patient suffers harm or potential death.

"I'm sold," Pardes says. "What I see IT can do is spectacular--health care is so challenged."

Pardes, who's a member of several health-industry organizations pushing for nationwide IT adoption, also is executive vice chair of the steering committee of the Markle Foundation's Connecting for Health, a public-private collaborative of more than 90 health-care organizations working in the areas of clinical data standards, privacy, and security. (See "Health-Care Collaborative Sets Goals For 2005".

In addition, Pardes earlier this month was sworn in as one of 11 members of a new federal commission charged with advising Congress on a plan to help the nation develop and implement health IT standards that will serve as the foundation for interoperable, universal electronic health records. The new Systemic Interoperability Commission will report to Congress by Oct. 31 with a road map for that mission. (See "Commission Ready To Work On National Health-Records System" .)

Return to the Health-Care Leaders Homepage"Pardes, whose career started in the field of psychiatry, has served as director of the National Institute of Mental Health and also was the U.S. assistant surgeon general during the Carter and Reagan administrations. Years ago, he says he knew that technology would become an invaluable tool to medicine. While a dean at the Columbia University Medical School, he helped make medical informatics a full-fledged department. To this day, Columbia is one of only a handful of medical schools in the country to have a biomedical informatics department.

Pardes is a frequent speaker on the benefits of IT at health-care industry conferences, which makes New York-Presbyterian Hospital's CIO Aurelia Boyer a subject of envy in IT-executive circles. The fact that Pardes isn't just a health-care CEO that gets IT, but that he's also a public advocate of it, makes Boyer, as she puts it, "the luckiest CIO in the room."

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