The Problem With Healthcare Records

Turning paper into electronic records is turning out to be harder then expected
Turning paper into electronic records is turning out to be harder then expected
Image Credit: benben

In the U.S., the government is investing a great deal of money into transforming the country’s medical system. A key part of this transformation is the conversion of medical records from paper to electronic records. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. Once CIOs have overseen the digitization of medical records, they can be easily exchanged between care providers. However, the reality of this transformation is turning out to be a bit harder than anyone thought it would be…

Why The Office Of The National Coordinator Is Not Happy

Every CIO knows that something bad is going on when the boss is not happy. In the case of digital medical records, the boss is the Office of The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. This part of the government was tasked at looking at the current state of the effort to digitize medical records. What they discovered was an industry in shambles.

They had received a number of complaints from different firms about what was going on with digital medical records. Their investigation revealed that there were indeed problems. What they found was that IT vendors were charging steep prices to set up the connections that are required in order for different organizations to share medical records. Customers were also being forced to use proprietary platforms in order to make it very expensive to switch to a different vendor.

In addition to these problems, it turns out that there are more. One of the biggest was that the digital medical record systems that are being used by hospitals are impeding the flow of medical information. These systems are making it difficult to transfer information to rival systems. The belief is that this is being done in order to control referrals and ensure the vendor’s market position.

The Challenge That Digitizing Medical Records Causes

Clearly there are some business issues at play here. However, the process of digitalizing the medical records of a large country like the United States is not an easy IT project to accomplish. At this point in time 80% of the hospitals and roughly 60% of the doctors have converted from paper files to digital files for their patients. The problems is that only 20% – 30% of these providers are currently able to share their records with outside providers.

One of the biggest challenges that CIOs are facing as they try to implement digital health care record systems is that there are already a large number of systems in place. What this means is that the new digital record systems have to be interfaced to the multitude of systems being used by hospitals, doctors, and labs.

The key to solving a lot of these interoperability problems will be the uniform use of industry data exchange standards. However, as industry insiders are quick to point out, that’s not going to solve the entire problem. Even once standards are being uniformly applied there will still be costs associated with maintenance, upgrades, and ensuring that the right information flows to the correct system.

What All Of This Means For You

In order to make the U.S. healthcare system more efficient, the U.S. government is in the process of investing US$30 billion in order to transform paper medical records into digital medical records. However, this process is turning out to be harder to do than any CIO had expected.

The challenge seems to be coming from the applications that are being used to manage the digital healthcare records. CIOs are starting to get complaints from end users about the challenges that they are facing when they try to exchange health care records. The use of proprietary platforms is also making it too expensive to switch systems.

It’s probably too early for CIOs to be able to determine if there is a real problem here or if all of these issues are simply part of the growing pains associated with trying to launch a very large new IT project. I suspect that it may turn out to be a bit of both. CIOs need to take a very close look at how their companies plan on using digital medical records and make sure that they don’t make any long lasting decisions that will restrict what they can do with them.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What conditions do you think that CIOs should place on their digital medical record vendors?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

By now I think that we all realize that we are living in dangerous and challenging times. The bad guys know about the importance of information technology and so they spend their time trying to break into our networks and we keep trying to find ways to keep them out. You’d think that a person who has the CIO job would have to have a sophisticated set of defense measures in place in order to keep his or her network secure; however, it turns out that this is not the case. Just taking care of the basics will generally keep the bad guys out. So that brings up the question: what should CIOs be doing?