Health IT Doesn’t Save As Much As Hoped Due To Interoperability Failures

Posted on January 14, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @annezieger on Twitter.

Does health IT actually save money for health organizations?  That’s a billion-dollar question — one which the whole Meaningful Use program rises or falls, I’d argue — but it still hasn’t been resolved. For what it’s worth, though,  here’s some thoughtful input on the subject.

According to a new study appearing in the journal Health Affairs, always the class act of the health policy game, health IT isn’t generating cost savings because of slow adoption and limited interoperabilityiHealthBeat reports. The research was conducted by the RAND Corporation.

Specifically, RAND researchers say, the productivity and cost benefits of health IT have been held back by:

* Slow adoption
* Reluctance of many clinicians to burn the midnight oil needed to truly master such systems
* Failure of the healthcare system as a whole to implement process changes needed to realize health IT system benefits

Another big issue is lack of interoperability between many health IT systems, the RAND researchers said. They note that previous predictions about health IT savings assumed that systems would be connected, thereby increasing efficiency.

To get savings from health IT, the U.S. healthcare industry needs to do the following, RAND says:

* Patients should be able to access their electronic health data and share those records with other health care providers
* Health care providers should be able to easily use health IT systems across different health care settings
* Health information stored in one IT system should be retrievable by health care providers that are part of other health care    systems
* Health IT systems should be set up to support — rather than hinder — the work of clinicians

No one of these points should come as a surprise, but given the stakes involved, it doesn’t hurt to hammer them home again. The whole interoperability “thing” isn’t going away…