Health Care Changes: Is IT Enough?

What Else Is Needed To Make Electronic Health Records A Success?
What Else Is Needed To Make Electronic Health Records A Success?

So here’s the $19B question for you: if you were the CIO in charge of the Obama administration’s big health care initiative, do you think that the “secret sauce” that will make it all work out will be better / more IT?

Just in case you’ve not been following this developing story, one of the the Obama administration’s key election promises was to fix the broken U.S. health care system – it costs too much and delivers too little care. A main tenet of how they are proposing to do this is through IT investments. The poster child of this massive IT investment is something called Electronic Health Records (EHRs).

The administration is forecasting that using EHRs could save the government up to $77B annually! We in IT just LOVE any problem that can be solved by throwing more IT at it; however, as always perhaps we need to take a step back and look more closely at this problem.

Julia Adler-Milstein over at the Harvard Business School has been looking into this issue and she’s made some interesting discoveries. She’s found that the hope for these EHRs are that they will improve work flow, accuracy, communication with patients, access to medical history, and clinical decision making. As we in IT know, more than just IT changes will be needed…

It turns out that studies that have been done by MIT Sloan School’s Erik Brynjolfsson and others have shown that organizations (not just health care industries) can only take advantage of new IT capabilities after they make substantial changes. Oh, oh – this sounds like work.

The types of changes that organizations need to make include increased training and increased individual decision making authority. They also flattened their hierarchies, made better use of their staff, decentralized their teams, and ended up raising the incentives for team performance.

As any CIO knows, IT changes by themselves can’t solve business problems. No matter if you are talking about how to solve the U.S. health care crisis or any industries need for more automation, an IT solution will only go so far. Making the rest of the company understand that IT can provide the tools needed to solve a business problem, but that organizational changes will also be required is a fundamental job for the CIO.

Is your IT department planning on implementing a major electronic record keeping system in order to solve a business problem? Are there organizational changes planned in order to support this new system? Do you have an end user training plan in place yet? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.