Behind Obama, the United States has Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Along with that long position title, comes her grand intent in investing in health IT, a grand 750USD million. This investment is thought to make the American medical system more “efficient and effective” and facilitate patient care by not having them fill out that inconvenient information form in the waiting room. Another benefit argued by Sebelius is that this investment will facilitate doctors and care givers to accompany patient care, and informing them of possible preventative tests that should be done.
BUT… at no time did Sebelius discuss the potential effects that an IT investment will impose on hospital and health care administration and management. Such IT investment could bring benefits to hospitals, potentially identifying patients that are constantly unnecessarily attending emergency rooms and depending medication. This would relieve medical professionals from being locked into feeding such patient behavior and would salvage their time. Other benefits could also be for emergency reasons, when an individual is rushed to the hospital and is in critical condition, care givers can quickly access their information and immediately see their medical history and potential allergic reactions. The potential benefits are endless, although how would hospital administrators and medical care professionals benefit from having patient IT information? What will be patients’ reaction to having their personal information placed on the web, a sitting duck waiting to be hacked? This could also affect the way in which patients perceive the medical system, and could discourage them from attending a medical professional.
Now let’s focus on the main theme of this blog, administration and management. IT would facilitate communication, which would allow for managers and hospital administrators to oversee the patient’s history and information. But who says that such technology is not already used? An anecdote I have from college is when I accompanied a friend in an ambulance to the hospital. When she was in the ambulance, she was asked for her name, age, address, symptoms and any important previous medical history. Before entering the emergency room, she was asked the same information, but this time there was a woman behind a computer taking her information. After waiting a few minutes, she was asked to enter a small room, where there was another person behind a computer that asked her for the third time the same information, after that she finally was able to see a physician. So what do we observe from this experience, is that there is technology being placed into hospitals, what is lacking is the information part of the IT being invested in these new and luxurious medical centers. These investments that are being implemented are argued to better efficiency, but from my experience is that there is none. The same procedure could have been done with paper, or the same paper with the information collected in that ambulance could have followed her around the hospital until she was attended. Another possible scenario is if there was a large ice storm, which there unfortunately was where I studied, and all electricity was cut and the hospital ran on generators, there could be potential problems in accessing patient information. So in the end, should Americans be happy that their government is investing so much on IT if the management of such technology is not being met? This of course is just a question to consider when thinking of remodeling a system that has run on paper for many decades. We are also talking about reeducating professionals and to alter their methods of practice. The amount of finance will not determine the quality of the outcome, time can only tell.
Alice Abou Nader