Is IT Integration a National Health Care Crisis?

Loraine Lawson

Integration is an important challenge for many companies, but nowhere is it as critical as it is in the health care industry. The problem is, the health care industry is notoriously slow to adopt IT management tools that other industries now consider standard.


As an example, consider my recent post about a Baseline Magazine piece exposing Kaiser Permanente's failed kidney transplant center shows. Much of the article focused on how Kaiser failed to integrate health care data or even adopt existing IT systems for managing kidney transplant systems. Never have I seen a more clear case of "Failing to plan is planning to fail."


Who in the business world today would plan to take over a partner's customer base without a plan for integrating the customer data? Not anyone who wants to stay in business. To give you an idea of the difference, consider this: The House Committee on Science and Technology reports in a press release that the health care industry invests only about 2 percent of its revenues in IT, compared to the nearly 10 percent of revenues invested in IT by other information-intensive industries, such as financial services.


The Bush administration has set a goal of 100 percent electronic management records adoption by 2014. That's seven years from now. So far, progress has been slow due to inadequate funding, reports the Wisconsin Technology Network.


To give you some perspective on how do-able this seven-year goal should be, the article includes a brilliant challenge from John Wade, vice president and chief information officer for St. Luke's Health System in Kansas City. Wade was the keynote speaker at this year's Digital Healthcare Conference, where he recalled President Kennedy's promise in 1961 to put a man on the moon. Eight years later, a man stood on the moon.


"Is automating health records a bigger challenge than putting a man on the moon?" he asked.




Only approximately 52.8 percent of American health systems have an enterprise-wide electronic medical record system and nearly one-third of hospitals still lack a clinical data repository, according to the WTN article.


Well, it seems some in Congress have had enough. U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn, this week introduced a bill that would speed up the integration of health care information technology.


If passed, H.R. 2406 would essentially strip integration responsibility away from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and give it to the National Institute of Standards and Technology which, the bill notes, "is well equipped to address the technical challenges posed by health care information enterprise integration."


I wonder, however, if the bill provides any additional funding mechanisms for this mandate.


This isn't just about politics. Or who knows, maybe the bill is - but it shouldn't be.


It's about national health. According to Wade, health care costs will soon take up to 26-28 percent of the GDP within 10 years. These costs already consume consume 15.2 percent, the WTN reports.


Wade believes that costs can be reduced through information technology. After reading about the Kaiser Permanente kidney center debacle, I'm inclined to agree with him.


Maybe it's time the government ran a new type of recruitment campaign: "I Want You for Health Care Integration! Enlist Now"

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