AIM: Collaborative effort needed to advance health IT
An editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine is calling for a “significant collaborative effort” on the part of health information technology stakeholders, to realize the full promise of health IT.

According to Mark Weiner, MD, University of Pennsylvania, and Peter J. Embi, University of Cincinnati, “[t]he history of health IT successes and failures indicates that the technological challenges involved often pale in comparison with the many socio-organizational issues that must be understood and addressed to enable HIT advances." For example, effective governance structures, regulatory policies and properly aligned organizational incentives are crucial in sustaining successful health data networks.

And while there have been “improvements in the speed and standardization of data transfers between systems, and the ability to leverage data from multiple clinical sources,” no technical solution can overcome the capture of inaccurate data information by a clinical data user.

Therefore, say the authors, “nontechnical innovations that help improve the accuracy of recorded information and incentivize consistently accurate data collection are critical to the success of research initiatives that rely on the presence of such data.”

The authors also point out that while improved technology has facilitated the capture of more comprehensive data in electronic form, minimizing the need for laborious manual extraction of information, many patients receive care across several different healthcare systems, “such that a single, comprehensive, longitudinal record rarely exists for any given patient.” Achieving interoperability between systems and ensuring adherence to common standards is crucial. Without it, the authors say, “distributed data access could have limited value—or lead to misinterpretation of the prevalence of and relationships between exposures and outcomes.”

The collaborative effort necessary to realize the promise of health IT “will be challenging and take time,” the authors conclude. “Nevertheless . . . current technology and existing models of success have put us in a better position today than we have been before to realize the promises of health IT to advance research and create a more efficient healthcare enterprise.”