Health Care Records Making Progress with Little Help from Tech Friends

Loraine Lawson
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Key Health Care IT Trends

The good news is that primary focus now seems to be squarely on improving the overall quality of health care and the reduction of human errors.

One reason integration in health care is so hard is that hospitals and doctors within the same organization tend to operate like separate businesses. I know it's not unique to health care, but the industry does seem to take it to a whole new level-even purchasing processes aren't centralized in hospitals, according to a recent InformationWeek Healthcare article.


Needless to say, suppliers aren't dummies and they've noticed this lack of centralization-which is why different departments within the same hospital sometimes pay different prices for the same items, the article notes.


Earlier in the year, I wrote quite a bit about the integration challenges health care faces as it tries to capture government incentive money for electronic health records. That's the carrot. But the HITECH Act also includes a stick, as the article points out: Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement policies are becoming more strict, and as a result, there will need to be "more efficiency and clarity in purchasing."


Certainly, health care has a lot of incentive to solve its silo problem and to focus on better business intelligence and analytics. And with around $20 billion in federal funds available to spend on these initiatives, big-name tech vendors have a lot of incentives to shift their focus to health care-specific solutions-which is why, in June, I predicted a tech land run on the health care market.


Okay, I'll grant you that it wasn't the most daring or insightful of predictions. But, verily, it has come to pass, at least if this article is any indication.


The piece walks you through all the challenges health care faces in its effort toward better business intelligence and analytics. And no surprises there-the challenges include: integration, data quality, governance and so on. The article also includes examples of how specific companies are solving these problems, and you only have to skim it to see all the big enterprise data management vendors: IBM, Informatica, Microsoft, Oracle, DataFlux, SAP, SAS.


There are also plenty of niche players still involved. But a few years ago, the list would've been entirely niche players.


As far as I'm concerned, it's a change for the better. Not to dismiss the contribution of niche health care companies, but the enterprise players have certainly had enough practice solving big integration and bad data challenges in the large organizations. And experts say, as these players come on board, the technology solutions will improve.


It's refreshing to see a list of health care organizations already moving toward change, and as the article points out, an integrated, clean and dare I say, "healthy," records system could lead to better health care for all:

As the experience-based insights that BI and analytics provide expand and mature, healthcare will enter a new phase of personalized medicine, where treatments are carefully tuned to individuals' needs based on extensive analysis of personal genomics and aggregate data about disease risk in select populations based on analysis of genetic markers.

That would be fantastic, and I'm sure it's something Joe Bugajski of the Burton Group would appreciate-given his troubled experience with disjointed medical records.


But my hopes are a bit more down-to-earth: I still dream that, within my lifetime, "integrated medical records" won't involve me driving all over the city, gathering paper copies of my own medical files.

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