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Why healthcare IT spending needs to shift its focus

Brian Eastwood | July 9, 2014
Large healthcare organizations spend millions annually on IT. Most of it pays for technology that moves or stores data. That's been especially true in the last five years, as meaningful use has triggered significant investment in electronic health record (EHR) technology.

Healthcare App Developers Can't Be Afraid to Fail

Attend enough IT conferences and you'll hear a version of this phrase: "No one wants to be the first to do something, but everyone wants to be second."

The phrase rings especially true in healthcare. Private insurers, Medicare, hospitals, integrated care networks, established IT vendors, startups and professional associations start staring contests, waiting for someone to blink first all while patients wait in the background, wondering why the can book a vacation to Maui from their phones but can't book an appointment at the clinic down the street without spending 15 minutes on the phone.

That's why Dr. Luis Saldana, CMIO of Texas Health Resources, says his organization is "dabbling" in initiatives, such as expanded health information exchange and the use of patient-generated data, to build credibility and a "culture of trust" with patients and providers alike. Dr. Lyle Berkowitz, associate CMIO at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, also named a few, including outreach for high-risk patients, population health management and the creation of high-tech, "intensive medical homes."

Making these work means breaking down barriers. For example, many physicians worry about the ramifications of adding "bad" patient data to the health record, Levin points out. They say it will further muddy the waters and disrupt the status quo.

However, Levin says, "We already have bad data, and most of it is based on what is already telling us anyway." Plus, letting patients control their data is widely regarded as a key step in improving patient engagement. If nothing else, he adds, "Put the iPads in the patient's hand."

Of course, that only works if patients want to use the tablet. Few do. As Levin says, "Most apps are crappy." They aren't secure, intuitive or integrated with EHR systems. Above all, they aren't designed to be part of a patient's social ecosystem.

Making apps that stick requires an entrepreneurial approach to healthcare IT one that deemphasizes monolithic systems and massive on-premises data centers in favor of agility, pilot projects and, above all, a willingness to fail.

Healthcare's reticence to accept failure is deep-seated and sensible. After all, one misdiagnosis or botched procedure can kill a patient. Recent headlines also demonstrate that CIOs and CEOs can lose their jobs over cumbersome, complex and costly EHR implementations.

But there's no reason for healthcare IT leaders to apply the rigors of an EHR system to, say, a smartphone app that lets ICU patients order dinner. Yes, there are frustrations to developing such apps, but they are small and the benefits of a more productive workforce and happier patient population can be quite large.

"Fail early, fail often and fail cheap," Berkowitz says.


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