Back in 2013, Dr. Stefan Larsson of BCG presented a TED Talk on the importance of Continuous Improvement within the Healthcare Sector. He argued that in many countries, hospitals and even individual doctors themselves operate inside of silos. They simply do their jobs, not looking at their practice as a whole and comparing it with others to see if there are better ways to do things. By encouraging hospitals and doctors to measure for quality, report the data and learn from others with the highest scores, not only do you get improved quality for the patient, but you also slash healthcare costs. It’s a fascinating TED Talk and you should give it a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
Implementing something like Continuous Improvement in the US Healthcare sector not only makes sense, it’s the perfect realm for healthcare IT to really shine. Most hospitals are now generating more digital data on their patients and their performance than they know what to do with. EHR’s and other digital records are much easier to mine for the relevant data than files and files of paper records. Surely someone could just create an algorithm to troll the records, pulling out relevant data and display it for reporting, right?
Not exactly. There are far too many obstacles still in the way. First, you have the plethora of EHR systems, who all not only hold data differently in their background database tables, but also measure different things. It’s not a secret that some EHR systems are more robust than others when it comes to the quality and granularity of data they can provide. Second, you have the interoperability problem. Not only do we have all of these systems, there is currently no easy way for them to talk to each other and pass data back and forth. Without the ability to share the data across systems, you would have to create a clearinghouse for the data to be accessed. This is the current goal of a national health record system in the US, but from the usability standpoint it has its issues. You also have facilities that are having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, which slows progress on all fronts. There are a myriad of reasons why this happens, but the results are the same: less data for a Continuous Improvement effort.
Despite these challenges, there is an enormous opportunity for healthcare IT vendors at this critical junction. By incorporating a goal of being able participate in a Continuous Improvement program, programs and software can be designed in such a way to make the data easily mine-able and exportable. Coincidentally, doing this will also force you to solve existing issues around interoperability, compliance reporting and would allow you to easily demonstrate ROI for your product, which helps drive future sales. It’s far easier to design a system with these features in mind early on than it is to try and add these features into a legacy program which is much more rigid.
What remains to be seen is which of the plethora of Healthcare IT vendors, if any, will identify and take advantage of this opportunity for future gains.