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Health IT Priorities Put Regulations Before Innovation

Implementing electronic records and meeting Meaningful Use rules are top of the list in our Health IT Priorities survey. Is there room for breakthrough technology?

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The tension is palpable among healthcare IT pros, given how much change is happening at once in their industry. Lynn Witherspoon, chief medical information officer at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, sums up the challenges: "Care delivery redesign and associated reimbursement changes, ongoing Meaningful Use and healthcare reform requirements, and the difficulty of developing new cultural norms will make next year a very busy one."

Another respondent to our InformationWeek 2013 Healthcare IT Priorities Survey puts things more bluntly: "Most healthcare CIOs are supportive of the majority of the new functional requirements that are being forced on us. However, federal requirements are coming too many, too fast. … The rate of change is such that systems and changes are being implemented less than optimally."

This furious pace of change explains why tactical and regulatory objectives dominate this year's Healthcare IT Priorities Survey, just as they did last year. More than 60% of the health IT pros who responded to our survey cite managing digital patient data and meeting regulatory requirements among their top priorities, rating each a 5 on a 1-to-5 scale.

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The big risk here is that healthcare IT leaders are so up to their necks in alligators that they're losing sight of their initial objective to drain the swamp. This tactical mindset is understandable with regulatory deadlines looming, but it doesn't bode well for breakthroughs in the use of IT to improve healthcare.

Just 15% of survey respondents say their provider has implemented a big data analytics initiative, for example, and even fewer use predictive analytics. Just 56% of respondents say the doctors in their organization interact with patients via Web portals, even as rules loom requiring healthcare providers to show that 10% of patients are accessing their medical records online. If providers don't meet that requirement, they won't be able to collect government health record subsidies.

Doctor-patient videoconferencing also remains the exception. It's used by just 28% of the healthcare providers in our survey, and widely used by just 5%, despite its potential to broaden access to healthcare, add convenience and lower costs. More encouragingly, use of email with patients -- the most natural first step to building digital ties with patients -- is on the rise, up seven points from 2012 to 72%.

To read the rest of the article,
download the April 2013 issue of InformationWeek Healthcare.

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