Sunday, June 26, 2005

IT as a Management Tool

A recent issue of the hospital journal H&HN (Hospitals and Health Networks) included a supplement titled The Future of the EHR (EHR standing for Electronic Health Record). The general theme had to do with the current status of the ongoing effort to create a national health record that would facilitate the movement of patient information among providers, payers, etc.

Among other things, the report unwittingly provided a strong clue to the puzzle of why the health care field finds it so difficult to make productive use of information technology (IT).

In the report, Gary Mecklenberg, CEO of Northwestern Memorial Health Care in Chicago, was quoted as saying “I’m not worried about sending information to California. I want to get it across the street.” It seems that his hospital cannot electronically get test results from a laboratory across the street because different vendors’ information systems are unable to communicate.

Which raises the question of who is accountable for that.

What Gary’s comment reveals is that in the prevailing culture of health care, senior managers are not expected to feel any sense of “ownership” of the IT applications within the institutions for which they are responsible. They may strategize at some conceptual level and they may referee among the various power centers competing for information technology resources. But when it comes to hands-on management of the planning of new applications and making sure that they actually work when implemented, they treat it as something for which they can only depend on the experts.

IT, like accounting, is a management tool that, when properly utilized, permits improvements and efficiencies not otherwise achievable.

Not all senior managers are accountants, but in recent times they have come to be held accountable for the validity of their organization’s financial reporting. When health care managers are held similarly accountable for the effective utilization of IT by the institutions for which they are responsible, their industry will begin to catch up with everybody else.

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