Where Quality Meets IT

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When the American College of Cardiology meets this month in New Orleans, healthcare cost, quality and clinical excellence will be on the minds of all. And the importance of more effectively managing cardiology care-related images and information is at the core.

With the changes afoot from the Medicare Reform bill passed last fall - namely the quality initiatives that align pay with performance, encouraging hospitals to report on their performance (through 0.4 percent larger payments) as well as improving care for the chronically ill through IT-based disease management - cardiology, like other specialties, is focusing on the big "Q."

Hospitals will only reach and exceed these goals through adaptation and implementation of more-effective IT strategies. Patient information and images must stream seamlessly throughout the enterprise, from the cardiology department, cardiologist's office (95 percent of cardiologists are office-based), interventional suite and OR, and automatically from imaging, monitoring and diagnostic devices.

Care-based IT paradigms - such as those for the 5 million Americans with chronic heart failure - must track clinical outcomes, patient and physician performance and satisfaction, and assist in implementing evidence-based medicine. This also will help ease the growing workload of most physicians.

Strategic-thinking healthcare facilities are upping their IT investment and planning from the enterprise level. CFOs from hospitals and health systems are eyeing a 14 percent hike in hospital capital spending in each of the next five years, according to a just-released Healthcare Financial Management Association survey. Topping the list are digital radiology systems (71.7 percent), computerized physician order entry systems (64.1 percent) and other IT purchases (61.3 percent).

Facilitating workflow is the priority, as is redefining care as health over a lifetime, rather than one-time treatment. IT vendors are listening to customers and creating scalable, intuitive information systems that can send critical patient information and images to a tablet PC via wi-fi or assure secure access through a PC in a cardiologist's home at 3 a.m. - and administrators can drill down into the data to make sure all are as efficient as can be.

When information is getting wherever, whenever it's needed, quality will follow.