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Commentary

Healthcare IT: Stop Sending PCs To Landfills

Stand up and say it with me: "It's not OK that my apps and data aren't everywhere I go, on every device I use."

When I visit health systems, payers, and even small medical groups, I notice that there are a lot of computers and advanced electronics everywhere. From an outsider's point of view, it may seem like healthcare really is in the 21st century.

However, those of us in the field know the truth. There is still a lot of work to be done, and somehow the IT bills keep piling up. From capital expenses to operational expenses, everywhere we look another technology bill is eating into profits -- and it still seems like we're always a step behind the times.

The most common feedback we receive on technology is that caregivers are just keeping up and trying to do their best. With all these computers around us and the cloud in front of us, is there any way we can cut costs?

To me, the answer is simple. There is a huge opportunity to cut technology costs, and it's right in front of our eyes: the computer.

[Who's wearing wearables? Read Humana's LeClaire: The Quantifiable CIO.]

First, a quick rundown of where we are today with the computer. Let's face it: Computers -- as we used to think of them -- are on the way out. Apps are in, and you download those apps from a magical place called the cloud. Interestingly enough, these awesome devices all have three things in common: a central processing unit, memory, and long-term storage. So if the computer (as we know it) is on the way out, and tablets and smartphones are here to stay (for now), what conclusion can we reach?

Tablets, smartphones, and all the technology in between are simply computers of different sizes and shapes. Therefore, it's not technically true the computer that is on the way out; it's really just a shift in the way we use the computer. We want apps and our data with us everywhere we go, hassle-free and accessible at the push of a button. As I mentioned previously, we're also done with spending more money to get what we want. We've paid our dues, subscriptions, IT consultants, and more consultants to help us with our IT consultants. I hear it every day, and it's clear: You are simply done. I don't blame you, because I am, too.

The solution in my mind is simple. Stand up and say it with me: "It's not OK that my apps and data aren't everywhere I go, on every device I use." That felt kind of good, didn't it?

So where do we go from here? For starters, let's make a pact not to buy another computer. We already have so many lying around -- let's take the computers you would otherwise send to a landfill, simply install Linux, and configure them to access your desktop in the cloud with all your apps and data. And while we're at it, let's demand that our IT departments let us access our desktop on our tablets and smartphones, too.

No, it's not a security concern to do that. If your IT department says it is, then I'm afraid they're either newbies or just don't have the security controls in place that they should. Believe me, the technology is there. You can make it secure, and it won't cost an arm and a leg. If President Obama was able to keep his BlackBerry in 2008, you can have your desktop accessible on every device in 2014.

Given that healthcare organizations and physicians are being asked to spend more of their time and money each year on healthcare technology just to remain competitive, health IT professionals like us need to look for innovative ways to help offset the cost of technology.

I may have put some of my IT brethren on the spot here. But on some level they must know that the days where we can tell our users what can and cannot be done with a computer are coming to an end.

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