The nation’s hospitals are on the clock to upgrade their information technology — and big brother is watching.
“The government doesn’t just want to see hospitals using information technology — they want meaningful use of that technology as part of health care reform,” said Bill Luallen, a partner in the health care provider practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “And we are still deciding what that meaningful use is going to look like.”
Across the United States large clinics and provider practices have started integrating technology — using electronic health records, e-prescribing, reviewing patient information to determine direction of care.
“And hospitals around those early adapters are going to have to find a way to beg in, particularly in a time when there is no nationally known product,” he said. “These clinics have ‘home-baked’ their IT and hospitals are going to have to use their systems.”
By 2011, all hospitals should have completed three stages of technology integration — created a network for patient information, a clinical data repository and a way to link those two together.
“The next big pop is going to be physician order entry, a closed-loop to administer medicine, doctor documentation and a fully effective medical record,” he said. “The final measurement is to collect discrete data in real time, input outcomes and use, share and analyze that data.”
And sharing data moves the industry closer to health information exchanges and medical homes.
Colorado is in the early implementation stages of its health care information technology, ahead of some states, but lagging behind states like Tennessee and Indiana that are already operating systems.
“Some states have completely lost their competitive advantage,” Luallen said. “They have to get past the fear factors of cost and compliance because evidence is there that suggests early adoption improves care, increases efficiency. And the overall result is a higher quality of care.”
Those states with integrated IT systems are able to do things other states cannot: Not only do they manage diseases better, they also can better track and contain infectious outbreaks.
“The system is cost-constrained right now,” he said. “That’s the biggest factor. The other ones are privacy and security. They need to find ways to convince people that if they are given this data, it will be safe. Their privacy will be protected, it won’t blow back in their faces.”
Hospitals need to focus on the issues with health information technology that are under their control — because so many of the regulations are determined by state and federal governments, said Paul Verronneau, principal and leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ U.S. Healthcare Payer Practice.
“It really is a culture change,” he said. “You need to make sure you have the appropriate skill levels, the proper relationships. It’s all about connectivity. We’ve always seen a battle between hospitals and doctors, or between providers and payers. We’re all playing for the same team now.”
The big issue in switching to IT is the architecture.
“And if they choose wrong, they will immediately be five years behind,” Verronneau said. “This is real, and the industry is going to have to adopt it. It’s time to start now to shift mindsets toward adoption.”
Despite the rush to have systems in place by 2015, the government’s deadline to start imposing penalties for systems that haven’t implemented technology, Verronneau recommends a cautious approach.
“If the hospitals get it right and choose the best system, then they can move quicker,” he said. “Issues are massive, though. And they don’t want to spend the money without gain, they want to make sure the new technology is innovative and will do what they need it to do. If they miss, the impact on the system, the pitfalls, will be huge.”