Healthcare IT

IT usage in the Health Care sector

When I go to Ralph’s, my La Jolla grocery store, I scan my Ralph’s club card. The firm then is able to track all of my purchases and offer me customized coupons. If I go another Ralph’s store in Clairemont, this store still has access to all my prior purchases and I still receive a customized coupon.

This is not how Information Technology (IT) works in health care. If I switch doctors, the only way my new doctor can access my health information is by calling my old doctor or by asking me. Recently, my girlfriend went to the doctor and the doctor prescribed her penicillin. Fortunately, she saw the prescription and told the doctor that she is allergic to penicillin. Errors such as these are occur more often then you think and could be corrected through an integrated IT network.

The Economist’s April 28th 2005 article (â€?IT in the health-care industry“) details some startling facts. For instance:

  • “In Britain, 98% of general practitioners have computers somewhere in their offices, and 30% claim to be “paperlessâ€?, whereas in America 95% of small practices use only pen and paper. But…this obscures the larger point, which is that even the IT systems that do exist cannot talk to those of other providers, and so are not all that useful.â€?
  • “According to the Institute of Medicine, a non-governmental organisation in Washington, DC, preventable medical errors—from unplanned drug interactions, say—kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people each year in America alone. This makes medical snafus the eighth leading cause of death, ahead of car accidents, breast cancer and AIDS.â€?

The lack of IT in America is appalling, but there are some innovators who are trying to improved the situation. Below are three examples of people and organizations that are leading the way to integrate IT and healthcare.

  • I recently spoke with an optometrist who works for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, California. He told me that Kaiser is currently implementing an integrated IT network among all its providers. Kaiser has attempted to do this in the past but has been met with technical difficulties. It appears now that Kaiser will use Epic Systems to build their IT infrastructure. It is not clear whether or not this system will be able to communicate with doctors outside the Kaiser network.
  • The Economist also give a brief bio of Larry Weed. In 1982, Dr. Weed founded the Problem-Knowledge Coupler Corporation (PKC), which has developed software to help physicians diagnose diseases depending on a patients symptoms and medical history. Dr. Weed views his software as a tool to aid physicians, not replace them.
  • Cynthia Solomon’s son Alex grew up with hydrocephalus, a rare and life-threatening condition in which fluid accumulates in the brain and needs to be drained through special shunts. Ms Solomon had no choice but to carry all of Alex’s records on allergies, pituitary-gland problems, brain scans wherever they went. If Ms. Solomon had not brought Alex’s complicated medical history with her wherever she went, doctors could have prescribed incorrect medicine in the case of an emergency. In response she founded FollowMe, an online medical database which doctors can use to access patient records.

In the future, the world needs a more integrated healthcare IT system in order to improve efficiency and reduce doctor errors.