Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Costly IT Fad Continues

The costly information technology (IT) fad continues on in health care.

In its February 16, 2009 edition, the magazine Modern Healthcare, in cooperation with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, announced its 2009 CEO IT Achievement Awards. Three hospital CEO’s were named with a one and a half page write-up about each.

I read all three, searching for evidence of quantifiable accomplishments in the areas of quality and cost. I would have liked to see a statement like “The hospital achieved its goal of reducing the cost of ICU care by 25%, with an investment in IT that will be paid back in five years.”

I didn’t find one. The write-ups mentioned the hospitals’ annual investment in IT, which in each case ran into the tens of millions of dollars. Some savings in specific amounts were claimed, but in most cases neither the method of calculating them nor the cost of achieving them was explained.

I found one of the claims to be of particular interest. An investment of $87,000 in an e-mail spam-blocking program was said to save $697,000 on the assumption that employees would spend five seconds erasing each spam e-mail that had been blocked.

It occurred to me that the employees wouldn’t be getting any spam at all if they didn’t have computers connected to the Internet. So I would put all of the $87,000 on the cost side of the hospital’s IT program.

No doubt the day will come when all this investment in IT pays off. But we are not there yet.

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