Booster Shot for E-Health

By Kim S. Nash , CIO |  Business, health care

The IT offerings in the e-health realm today are about where enterprise resource planning was in the early 1990s: many sellers, lofty promises and staggering amounts of money being spent. An EMR, which mainly digitizes patient records, is the centerpiece. But transforming a hospital to meet Obama's vision will require many more pieces to be integrated-tracking prescriptions electronically, computerizing physician orders, digitizing, storing and retrieving lab results and images. The complicated list goes on and on.

If done right, a healthcare organization can go nearly paperless, with real-time access to all patient information, generating treatment plans based on detailed analysis of aggregated data about what worked in the past and what didn't-all to produce better patient outcomes. The business mission, if you will, would morph from treating the sick to "spreading health," as Kaiser Permanente CIO Phil Fasano puts it. That's a vital strategic shift. (See " The Long Road to E-Health Records" ) In trying to achieve it, though, "a lot of people will try to do too much, too soon and fail," predicts Money Atwal, CIO and CFO of Hawaii's Hilo Medical Center. Atwal recalls with a shudder the way IT leaders rushed huge ERP systems into place when the technology was untried and lacked C-suite commitment.

Smart CIOs will recognize this period as a time to pivot from being someone who automates existing processes to someone who makes possible new business models, adds Mount Sinai's Contino. Success, he says, "isn't in the technology. It's the management."

Frustrating the CEO

Virtua Health, a $1 billion hospital group in Marlton, N.J., has used medical software from GE Healthcare and Siemens (among others) for many years. But CEO Richard Miller was frustrated that no single hospital process was electronic from start to finish. For example, nurses could start an electronic medical record for a new patient, but doctors continued to write treatment orders on paper.

"As CEO, I got tired of hearing we're using 20 percent of the functionality of a system," Miller says. Part of the problem was outdated methods of working and a stubborn resistance to change, says Ninfa Saunders, Virtua's chief operating officer. Miller, Saunders and other Virtua executives decided they wanted to remake their hospital into a world-class venue for specific areas of care such as women's health and cardiovascular cases. "We said, 'We don't want to be average anymore,'" Miller notes.

Virtua launched electronic medical records in 2006 and set out to use as many features as possible in its selected products (GE's Centricity PACS, Microsoft's Amalga database and integration toolkit, and Siemens Healthcare's Soarian). Last year, Miller hired Al Campanella as CIO from consulting firm Deloitte Consulting.

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