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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Meaningful Use

There are two ways for organizations to make use of information technology. One is to conceive of a better way of doing something that it makes possible and then use the technology to do it. The other is to apply the technology to what is being done in the hope that something good will come from it.

Hospitals and doctors seem to have opted for the ‘hope’ approach.

The federal economic stimulus package included a big slug of money to support the application of information technology in the health field with particular emphasis on the development of the electronic medical record. Those responsible for awarding grants apparently are concerned that the ‘hope’ concept will prevail because they are requiring applicants to show that the computer applications to be funded will be put to what they call a “meaningful use” and have gone on to define what they mean by that.

One might suppose that hospitals would be embarrassed by the need for such a policy, implying, as it does, that they would take public money and use it to develop expensive computer systems that were not ‘meaningfully useful.’ But they are not. Instead, they are complaining that the definition is too strict.

It is something of a commentary on the state of management in health care that it cannot be counted on to make use of information technology, an expensive and powerful administrative tool, in a responsible way.

When the country gets serious about health care reform, it will insist that something be done about that.

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