Realizing Information Technology's Promise in Healthcare

The healthcare industry cannot afford to take one step forward – and then two steps backward when it comes to information technology implementation. Why? The industry needs to keep moving full speed ahead to truly realize information technology’s potential.  

Consider the following: Some 80 percent of medical errors are initiated by miscommunication, including missed communication between physicians, misinformation in medical records, mishandling of patient requests and messages, inaccessible records, mislabeled specimens, misfiled or missing charts, and inadequate reminder systems. In addition, another study shows that one-fifth of medical errors are due to the lack of immediate access to patient information.

Certainly, information technology, specifically access to electronic health records, could help to reduce errors, improve care and, most importantly save lives. The government’s meaningful use program is helping the industry move forward and tap into this potential. In fact, according to statistics released in September 2013 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than 200,000 Medicare eligible professionals, more than 100,000 Medicaid eligible professionals and more than 4,000 hospitals have implemented EHRs, achieved meaningful use, and received incentive fund payments – a significant achievement for these providers.

At the same time, though, the healthcare industry recently bore witness to what can happen when information technology is not ready for prime time. The federal government’s well-documented struggles with healthcare.gov illustrate how inadequate technology infrastructure can wreak havoc on intended outcomes. 

To realize the potential of information technology in the healthcare arena – and continue moving forward at full speed – Bill Wohnoutka, vice president of Solutions Architecture at Broomfield, Colo.-based Level 3 Communications, recommends that organizational leaders implement systems that:

· Integrate comprehensive and redundant security measures to safeguard individual patient information from the ever-expanding landscape of cybersecurity threats.

· Leverage solid IT infrastructure that is built to handle current and future volume demands, as well as deliver against application performance requirements. In fact, according to our 2013 survey of CIOs and other healthcare executives, 76 percent of respondents are planning to upgrade their network infrastructure in the next two years.

· Incorporate flexible design to evolve with changing dynamics and requirements, as the infrastructure is also critical for healthcare organizations to move forward with the implementation of mobile technologies, telehealth services and population analytics

· Feature collaboration technology to seamlessly share records across medical facilities, making it easier for healthcare providers to ensure that patients receive the timeliest and the most informed care possible.

Each of these features will help to achieve the critical goal of improved patient care by empowering caregivers and patients alike to make the most informed and best choices as they leverage information and available support tools.

Overall, the healthcare industry has come a long way in terms of information technology utilization. Indeed, through initiatives such as the government’s EHR incentive program, information technology is being woven into the very fabric of care delivery. To truly realize the potential of technology, though, healthcare organizations now need to start leveraging all the considerable data that is being generated by these systems and to turn it into intelligence with the capabilities to help save lives and improve care.