So you spent millions to billions of dollars on information systems over the past few years, right?
How’s that working out for you?
For a large percentage of you, whether or not you admit it, not so well. What you bought needs some serious tweaks, re-engineering, re-thinking, re-vamping.
For an even larger percentage, maybe most of you, the best advice is: Junk it. Throw it out and start over.
Poorly designed and poorly implemented information systems are worse than useless, worse than a waste of those millions and billions of dollars. As we go through rapid, serious changes in health care, poor information systems will strangle your every strategy, hobble your clinicians, kill patients and actually threaten the viability of your organization.
A lot of health care executives dismiss the complaints about the new systems as the carping of stubborn technophobic doctors and nurses who should just get with the program. If you are tempted to do that, you need to take a step back. You need to get real. The complaints and concerns are too widespread, too deep and indeed too frightening for that kind of blithe denial. And they are not just coming from disgruntled docs.
Dr. Clem McDonald of the National Institutes of Health, a true pioneer in pushing for electronic medical records (EMRs) over the last 35 years, has called the current implementations a “disappointment,” even a “tragedy.” He is far from alone in this assessment.
Back in the mid-1990s, I did a lot of web work for traditional media. That often meant figuring out what the client was already doing on the web, and how it was going, so I’d find the techies in the company, and ask them what they were doing, and how it was going. Then I’d tell management what I’d learned. This always struck me as a waste of my time and their money; I was like an overpaid bike messenger, moving information from one part of the firm to another. I didn’t understand the job I was doing until one meeting at a magazine company.
The thing that made this meeting unusual was that one of their programmers had been invited to attend, so management could outline their web strategy to him. After the executives thanked me for explaining what I’d learned from log files given me by their own employees just days before, the programmer leaned forward and said “You know, we have all that information downstairs, but nobody’s ever asked us for it.”
I remember thinking “Oh, finally!” I figured the executives would be relieved this information was in-house, delighted that their own people were on it, maybe even mad at me for charging an exorbitant markup on local knowledge. Then I saw the look on their faces as they considered the programmer’s offer. The look wasn’t delight, or even relief, but contempt. The situation suddenly came clear: I was getting paid to save management from the distasteful act of listening to their own employees.
The solution to the nation’s long-term deficit problem is generally portrayed as a choice among sharp budget cuts, major tax increases or a combination of the two. Given the magnitude of the problem, some level of sacrifice is probably unavoidable. But there is a third, overlooked approach to major budget savings — innovation — that the new congressional supercommittee should also include as a key component of its deficit-reduction strategy.
Innovation in this case is the process of trying a range of promising approaches and using rigorous evaluation methods to determine which of them really work. In many areas of the economy — such as information technology, agriculture and manufacturing — innovation has often identified ways to both reduce cost and improve performance. This has led to amazing progress over time, including exponential gains in computing power over the past half-century at a steadily decreasing price. So a logical question is: Can innovation in policy produce more effective government at lower cost?
The answer is yes. There are proven examples, from U.S. welfare policy and other areas, where innovative reforms produced major budget savings while simultaneously improving people’s lives. This suggests that part of the answer to our deficit problem lies in American ingenuity and not just sacrifice.