Healthcare is a complex, fragmented, information-dependent industry that lacks a unifying technology. There are 700,000 physicians and 5700 hospitals in the United States. Each piece of the delivery system collects data in its own way, and for the most part, existing information systems don’t talk with each other. More than 90% of the 30 billion annual health care transactions occur via phone, fax or paper. Bringing pen and ink patient records and prescriptions into the digital age is seen as a vital step in transforming the delivery of care. Numerous studies have suggested that the use of information technology (IT) can reduce medical errors, improve patient safety, and cut costs.
The use of information technology by individual health providers is hardly new. The critical issue today is to link digital information between and among health care providers in real time, a concept known as interoperability, while assuring the privacy and security of the data. This ready availability of data will help physicians make better treatment decisions, enable nurses and pharmacists to deliver safer care, and help consumers make better choices among treatment options.
Plainly speaking, we need three things in this country. We need to turn paper processes in hospitals, clinics, labs and physician offices into electronic transactions. We need to be able to share medical records when a patient travels outside of a region, while protecting patient privacy. And, we need a web-based system for promulgating evidence-based medical treatments into everyday clinical practice.
In practice, there is a huge gap between the rhetoric calling for information technology initiatives, and the reality hospitals and physicians face each day. I want to understand why the gap exists, and what can be done to realize the promise of healthcare information technology.