I don't know why people are always talking about the need for electronic health records (EHRs). Where I live, we have a very effective system: Me, driving around getting hard copies of my patient records from all of my doctors, filing them in a three-ring binder and bringing it to every new doctor I visit.
On second thought, maybe that process could use some streamlining and a bit of technology.
Lean is the scene when it comes to health care these days-and I have to say, it's one of the better things the rest of business is bringing to the industry. Fellow IT Business Edge blogger Ann All shared how hospitals are applying lean principles to become more effective at their work and more efficient with their spending.
John Schmidt believes lean integration-applying lean principles to integration work-will also play a key role in the "leaning" of U.S. health care. Schmidt, the VP of Informatica's Global Integration Services, is exploring how lean can help health care in a recent series appearing on Informatica's Perspectives blog, and its well worth checking out.
Last summer, in a similar series, Schmidt explored his idea of applying lean to integration. That effort lead to a book, "Lean Integration: An Integration Factory Approach to Business Agility," which he co-authored with David Lyle, Informatica's vice president of Product Strategy.
It looks like he's well on his way to a follow-up book on health care. Schmidt knows leans principles can help IT: He told me during a recent interview that integration developer groups typically experience a 90 percent reduction in the time it takes to deliver an integration and a 50 percent increase in productivity when they switch to lean practices.
The idea seems to be catching on: In his most recent post, Schmidt says he's seeing executives with lean integration included in their job title.
OK, lean integration sounds like a smart move. But does it have a particular value proposition for health care IT? Obviously, Schmidt thinks it does. He writes:
"It is specifically because the health care industry is so fragmented that it will adopt Lean. Lean integration is a natural way to solve many cross-organizational issues by applying principles such as waste elimination, value chain mapping, team empowerment and optimization of the whole rather than the parts."
I think he's right, and what's more, I recently stumbled across a post that makes me think better electronic health care records could actually improve health care in surprising ways-ways we can't even guess at until we actually have these health care systems in place. And integration will be a key component to finding these unsuspecting benefits.
The post I'm referring to appeared on Dana Blankenhorn's Smart Planet blog. He points out that population studies have identified over-treatment in cases of prostrate and breast cancer-specifically, the unnecessary surgical removal or partial-removal of prostrates and breasts as a means of avoiding cancer. Blankenhorn writes:
Health IT makes these studies easier to perform, and more statistically valid. If Electronic Health Records (EHRs) can share common formats, if they become searchable and subject to mass calculation, if we let comparative effectiveness do its job and not rely on small cohorts like the Framingham Heart Study, we can dramatically improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.
This type of use is just one way EHRs will help pay for themselves. Who knows what will happen when we actually have working, integrated medical records?
And it's exactly the sort of smart thinking health care requires and we, as patients, desperately need. Right now, as Schmidt points out in his series, we're misspending a ridiculous amount on health care-and you can bet those figures don't include the cost of our individual gas and time, gathering our paper medical records.