Is IT the Key to Improving Healthcare Quality and Efficiency?

Is IT the key to improving healthcare quality and efficiency? The majority of healthcare opinion leaders seem to think so. The findings from the Commonwealth Fund/Modern Healthcare Opinion Leaders Survey appeared in the July 30 edition of Modern Healthcare, in an article titled IT Seen as No. 1 Key to Improving Efficiency, Quality.
The results reported from the survey of 214 opinion leaders on improving healthcare quality and efficiency were:
– 66% believe rapid adoption of electronic health records and other IT systems is job No. 1
– 59% chose public reporting of provider performance on quality measures
– 51% said financial incentives for improved quality of care, such as pay-for-performance, was key
These don’t add up to to 100% because respondents were permitted to choose more than one solution. In addition, 70% of respondents said they want the federal government to play a leading role in backing these IT investments.
Patrick Shumaker, a Lean leader with 25+ years of healthcare experience and Gemba’s VP of Healthcare Improvement, summed it up:
“These survey results are both interesting and disturbing.”
Just who are these opinion leaders in the survey? The respondents to the survey included experts in healthcare delivery, finance and policy, as well as government officials. With the possible exception of “healthcare delivery experts” it strikes me that these people may be a step or two removed from the healthcare gemba.
A small number (7%) said the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 allowing providers to voluntarily report medical errors with confidentiality was sufficient to reduce medical errors. Sufficient or not, exposing problems is certainly a necessary part of Lean healthcare.
Adding an IT layer on processes that are bad, or lacking in sufficient quality and safety checks designed and supported by the people who perform them, will simply become another example of the classic IT mistake of “paving the cow paths”. In other words, let’s automate safe and high quality processes, even if this means delaying the IT implementation while processes are fixed.
I wonder what nurses and others making a difference every day on the healthcare gemba would say is the number one priority to improving healthcare quality and efficiency and safety?

1 Comment

  1. John Hunter

    July 30, 2007 - 9:21 am

    In a word, no. IT is great, I spend much of my day creating IT solutions to improve the performance of our organization. However, it is not magic. IT is just a tool. You need to have ideas that take advantage of IT to make improvements that would not otherwise be worthwhile.
    I can believe electronic health records in coordination with systemic improvements could add value. But IT is not the key. The key is managing better: improving systems and process (a part of which might take advantage of IT), eliminating waste, mistake proofing…