Why is healthcare IT so bad?

Even after $19B infusion, conversion to digital records looks like a disaster


You know you're in trouble when all the success factors for your most recent IT project involve wetware instead of software and hardware.

In the healthcare industry the wetware the bits of wetware that make the decisions tend to be specialists in wetware, not in business or technology.

That can be good or bad, according to hospital CIOs I've interviewed.

On one hand docs are generally smart(ish) and those who have been practicing for the last five to ten years are generally pretty technical as well. A decade or two ago it wasn't unusual to see copiers, computers and other gear marked with a "No M.D.'s" sign because people used to poking at soft tissue often didn't do well with software.

Now there are plenty of doctors who specialize in both clinical systems used to treat patients and administrative systems used to run the hospitals.

The best known of them even has a sense of humor. John D. Halamka, CIO and many other things at Boston's Harvard Medical School-affiliated Beth Israel-Deaconness Medical Center blogs at geekdoctor.blogspot.com.

So with all those heavily degreed IT specialists running the IT and the hospital (no matter what it says on the organizational chart, the doctors always run the hospital), it shouldn't be that difficult to walk even a big healthcare organization through the conversion to electronic health records (EHR) that has to be completed by the federally mandated deadline of October, 2013, right?

So why are the first five success factors listed in a new report from CSC's Health Delivery Group all the kind of "soft" issues usually associated with IT projects with more political obstacles than technical ones, and shelfware or outright failure rates much higher than projects that are only technologically impossible?

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