Even with the federal stimulus money -- which is just a fraction of what's needed nationwide -- access to capital for IT is a big concern for many medical providers, says Bobbie Wilbur, co-director of Social Interest Solutions, a nonprofit healthcare technology provider. "Affordability is complicated by so many factors. Some just don't have the money. Others might not make it a priority because other needs rank higher," Wilbur says.
Spooner says IT costs could force small, independent operations to seek partnerships or mergers with larger institutions. "Independent physician practices or hospitals may become a thing of the past," he says.
Of course, healthcare IT won't do any good if it isn't used effectively, or isn't used at all. CIOs and researchers continue to report pockets of resistance among doctors and nurses, who in turn blame kludgy computer systems and then resort to work-arounds that involve pens, paper and Post-it notes.
Report Card: Healthcare IT
We asked experts to give letter grades for the progress that IT has made so far in improving the following aspects of the U.S. healthcare system. The graders:
Timothy Stettheimer, regional CIO, St. Vincent's Health System
Mary Griskewicz, senior director of ambulatory healthcare information systems, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
Bobbie Wilbur, co-director, Social Interest Solutions
Using IT to improve the quality of patient care:
B+ for the implementations (Stettheimer)
A for the technology that's available (Stettheimer)
Using IT to lower the cost of care:
Ensuring the privacy and security of electronic health records to help patients trust the system:
B+ for the technological capabilities (Stettheimer)
C+ for gaining people's trust (Stettheimer)
Making healthcare computer systems affordable for smaller medical offices:
Ensuring that the technology is usable enough for doctors and nurses to work with it easily and productively:
Sharing data among the various segments of the healthcare industry:
A for the technology (Wilbur)
B for the implementations (Wilbur)
C for the adoption of available technology (Wilbur)
To some degree, this is a generational issue. More and more medical professionals, like people in other industries, have grown up with technology or are becoming more comfortable with it.
In the future, Spooner says, caregivers will have no choice but to use computers; they'll be viewed as incompetent if they don't.