Back in 2005, RAND Corporation published an analysis suggesting that hospitals and other health-care facilities could save more than $81 billion a year by adopting electronic health records.
Seven years later, the analysis firm’s new study suggests that health care providers have largely failed to upgrade their respective IT systems in a way that allows them to take full advantage of e-records. Meanwhile, the health care system in the United States continues to waste hundreds of billions of dollars a year, by some estimates.
“The failure of health information technology to quickly deliver on its promise is not caused by its lack of potential, but rather because of the shortcomings in the design of the IT systems that are currently in place,” Dr. Art Kellerman, senior author of the RAND study, wrote in a Jan. 7 statement. Slow pace of adoption, he added, has further delayed the productivity gains from e-records.
However, the authors suggest that the situation is repairable, provided the health care providers in question follow certain guidelines. For starters, RAND believes that health information must be stored in a format that allows users on multiple IT systems to retrieve it; patients should also have the ability to access and share their records.
On a more fundamental level, health information technology systems “must be engineered to aid the work of clinicians, not hinder it,” read RAND’s summary of the paper. “Systems should be intuitive, so they can be used by busy health care providers without extensive training.” Doctors and other clinicians should have the ability to use systems in a variety of different health-care settings, “much as consumers easily drive various makes and models of automobiles.”
RAND’s conclusion about the inadequate use of electronic health records is unsurprising to anyone who follows the field. Some high-profile efforts to popularize e-records have crashed and burned—Google Health, for example, launched with the expectation that patients and providers would jump at the chance to place their health and wellness records in the cloud. While some tech-savvy patients and caregivers tried out Google’s service, the company never found a way to get millions of people onboard. As a result, Google Health was retired Jan. 1 of this year (although data remains available for download through January 2013).
While other projects survive—Microsoft maintains HealthVault, and smaller firms have similar efforts in the works—none of them have sparked a movement to make electronic health records as ubiquitous as, say, online access to bank accounts and financial information.
But that doesn’t mean the health care industry isn’t embracing new technology. Over the past few months, other research firms have suggested that the use of Big Data tools is on the rise among health care providers; consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, for instance, recently predicted that hospitals and other healthcare centers in the United States would adopt advanced data analytics in significant numbers over the next five years, despite only 10 percent of hospitals using such platforms in 2011. IBM, Oracle, and other IT vendors have partnered with health-care providers on analytics efforts.