There is a lot of attention right now on health care and health care reform. The focus is on providing health care for everyone at an affordable price. There exists a lot of political wrangling over the method of achieving the goal of affordable universal health care but I would like to suggest that IT can play a big part in making health care more efficient and therefore cheaper. Specifically, health informatics can create patient record efficiencies and cost savings.
Health informatics is really the storage, processing, and display of personal health records. Health informatics has grown from the old days of hand-scribed paper records to a complex electronic system of networked data. Health care itself has grown as well, from the country doctor to the point where a single patient may have multiple doctors and specialists. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, “Most chronic conditions require multiple clinicians to coordinate care, and most patients who have these conditions visit providers from many different medical groups. This creates obvious logistical challenges, such as making sure all providers are up to date on the current care plan, as well as their respective roles and responsibilities for keeping track of the patient. Additionally, patients with more than one chronic condition—who incurred roughly 93 percent of Medicare spending in 2011—require coordination among an even greater number of providers.”
This is where IT and health informatics can shine. This is our specialty. We are very good at processing, dissecting, and compiling information and making it available to everyone, everywhere.
Some of the funds for implementing and upgrading health informatics systems are available from government stimulus via The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). This legislation authorized incentive payments through Medicare and Medicaid to doctors and hospitals when they use Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to achieve specified improvements in care delivery.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine “…the federal government will commit unprecedented resources to supporting the adoption and use of EHRs. It will make available incentive payments totaling up to $27 billion over ten years, or as much as $44,000 (through Medicare) and $63,750 (through Medicaid) per clinician. This funding will provide important support to achieve liftoff for the creation of a nationwide system of EHRs.”
We have the incentive to create systems that can provide information that can lead to a breakthrough in a patient’s care and recovery. We have the necessary funds provided, at least partially. We have the skill to create, process, and display information in such a way that a skilled practitioner can provide the professional judgement that leads to quicker diagnosis and treatment. In turn, the care is quicker, cheaper, and more effective, which is the whole point of the current political debate.
Can it really be that simple? Do we just need to bring together the skill, the funding, and the professional expertise to make health care affordable and thus available? I think it boils down to just that. Do you work with electronic health records? Can better and more readily available information really create breakthroughs in this arena? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.