Hard Times Call for Smart IT Planning

Purchasing is down, but hospitals ‘shopping’ now for upturn

Although some hospitals, health systems and imaging centers are full-speed ahead with their implementation of planned IT projects, others are temporarily halting IT and other investments to weather the current economic storm. However, this doesn’t mean that these facilities are shutting down their acquisition assessment and planning. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Healthcare decision-makers are using this purchasing hiatus to apply a value-based perspective to their technology purchases in both the near and long term.

The last year has proven one thing: hospitals are not recession-proof. Nine in 10 hospitals are making cutbacks attributed to the economy, such as reducing capital IT spending, cutting administrative expenses, reducing staff and scaling back planned projects, according to the American Hospital Association (AHA).

While the weakened economy has slowed the breakneck pace of IT spending, the commitment to health IT remains—more than half of the respondents to 20th annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) survey reported that their IT budgets would increase, just slightly lower than the 78 percent who said their budgets would increase last year.

Convinced of the importance of health IT in staying competitive, many health IT decision-makers are taking this downtime to think strategically about what systems and technologies their facilities will acquire and implement when capital spending opens up again.

“There is heavy emphasis on justifying, from a clinical/business perspective, whatever purchases are taking place,” says Anthony J. Montagnolo, chief operating officer at ECRI Institute. “We are seeing an increased number of people asking for help in evaluating the underlying justification for purchasing new technology.”

A notable trend shows that the number of capital equipment quotation requests that ECRI is being asked by hospital clients to review has been down in recent months. However, the number of longer-term technology planning-related projects they’re being asked to support  is clearly on the rise. What systems and platforms are being considered? EMRs, hybrid ORs, RFID, ultra-high-field-strength MRI ?systems and premium-slice CT top the list.

No matter what they are considering, performing a technology assessment can make or break procurement plans. It means reviewing actual needs in clinical areas, reviewing how a technology matches core strengths and looking at technologies that will actually be used, “instead of collecting dust in a ?closet,” says Jim Keller, ECRI vice president for health technology evaluation and safety.

He notes that vendors can utilize their advertising and marketing skills to educate customers or potential customers on features and capabilities of their technologies and systems, but hospitals are responsible for making sure that the commentary is vetted with independent information. For sure, hospital decision-makers must keep their eyes and ears open to the next best technology to deploy, and how it will integrate with current and future IT and device purchases.

Additionally, hospital executives need to become more educated on the implications of adopting newer, converging technologies such as computer-based medical devices and their associated business risks, Keller says. For example, a recent news story about how the Conficker worm infected hundreds of medical devices globally. In one instance, an imaging device—which was connected to the internet due to a technology flaw—was actually following commands from the worm. “This is an example of a security risk that hospitals will have to deal with more often as the use of computer-based medical technologies expands,” he adds.

There’s some cross-training going on, too. CIOs are learning more about the clinical implications of integrating a variety of technologies, while chief medical officers, chief medical informatics officers and physicians are thinking like CIOs, learning more about how their systems interact with other devices and technologies to ensure the clinical workflow fits with a new technology.

“Since the purchasing frenzy might be on hold for now, it is a good time to look at technology procurement from the enterprise perspective, as opposed to a business silo perspective,” says Montagnolo. “Organizations should consider developing a written technology plan that looks out over at least the next two to three years in terms of technology replacements, which new systems to adopt, and consider how to prioritize it all.”