Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Health Care State of Affairs

The November 2, 2004 issue of The Boston Globe carried an article written by freelancer Judy Foreman that neatly captures one aspect of the current state of affairs in health care.

The headline of the piece: “Doctors should return test results faster,” accurately described the theme. Patients become both anxious and annoyed when they have to wait for inordinately long periods to get the results of medical tests – particularly when there is suspicion of a life-threatening condition.

Foreman interviewed a number of lab and x-ray people who pointed out that in the modern digital age, there is no excuse for these delays. Information can be moved with the speed of light. Radiologists don’t even have to wait any more for the old films to be delivered. Computers allow them to be called up instantly.

So here is an opportunity for a health care institution that seriously wants to make productive use of information technology. It could provide same-day reporting to patients of all test results – something that would not have been practical before computers. With a little vision and determination and some IT staff time, it could be done without waiting for federal grant support or national standards.

But, of course, health care providers don’t have the organization or the discipline to pull it off, which explains why they have been so slow to exploit IT.

At the end of the article, Foreman offered her own suggestion, which was to give patients a tracking number like UPS does. It seems not to have occurred to her to hold health care providers responsible.

So I sent her an e-mail with my own suggestion, which was that hospital trustees hold their high-paid CEOs accountable for seeing to it that the problem got fixed. I suggested, further, that she interview some trustees, find out why they don’t do that and report the results in a future article. Her reply was “Good idea. Thanks.”

We’ll see. If she doesn’t, that will tell us something more about why the state of health care is as it is.

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