HIT Essentials for Hospital Boards, Part 1

While the CEO, CIO, COO, and CMO take on the task of identifying which technologies are required to support a hospital’s mission, hospital boards have a responsibility to guide the organization, support its strategies, and ensure that the financial pieces are in place in order to remain a viable community asset. The timeframes for implementation allowed under HITECH and proposed rules don’t provide much time to take a “wait and see” approach. Here are three information technology essentials for the board to consider that will benefit the entire transformation to a digital healthcare world.

1) Information Technology is a tool, not an end unto itself. Merely implementing IT will not magically change your organization, improve quality and efficiency or reduce risk. The more a hospital can do to prepare for cultural change, the more prepared it will be to implement IT in a way that will support the mission and strategies. First, develop a strategy; then develop an IT system that supports that strategy. If you invert this process, there will be disappointment all around.

2) Paper is tangible, electronic records are not. People are used to holding paper in their hands, whether reading a book or a folder filled with medical records. Electronic records allow much greater capability to search and analyze data, but the way we interact with the information is different, and requires learning an entirely new process just to see it, save it and retrieve it. Anyone can learn to turn the pages of a book, but a computer adds a layer of obfuscation between the reader and the information. Paper medical records wait patiently for you to access them at your leisure. Electronic records require electricity, computer hardware, software, networks, and an IT department to maintain it all. Meanwhile, a book printed 400 years ago will never require a software upgrade in order to read it.

3) Information technology is a long-term commitment. Not many people have invested in personal computers and then given up on them in order to revert to typewriters and paper. The next version of hardware or software always promises faster speeds, improved performance, easier use, etc. The initial cost of a personal computer is minimal compared to the additional investment we must make in software (and upgrades), educational materials, and time spent learning how to use these tools efficiently. Further, the data collected, whether it is in the form of email, spreadsheets, reports, etc., is now in electronic format, and it would be completely impractical to convert all of it back to a paper-based system. The same holds true for HIT: There is no going back. (Link to Part 2 here.)

-Rod Piechowski

Copyright © 2010, Rod Piechowski, Inc., Consulting

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