The Road to Quality and Quantitative Medicine

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 - Mary C. Tierney
Mary C. Tierney

Healthcare, like most of the U.S. economy, is at a crossroads. In order to prosper in an environment of increasing constraints and controlled costs, while feeding the need to enhance quality and outcomes, more proficient use of information technology (IT) in healthcare is needed.

President Obama has advocated for healthcare reform based on the use of EHRs, new and expanded government programs and payment reform. His inaugural address still rings in our ears, “Our healthcare is too costly…We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise healthcare’s quality and lower its costs.” His economic stimulus plan includes about $20 billion for the development of digital medical-records systems alone and he has pledged to overhaul Washington’s approach to education, healthcare, science and infrastructure, all in an effort to “lay a new foundation for growth.”

Since healthcare has never seen this kind of infusion of dollars, how will we handle it? We expect healthcare IT stimulus funds will help hospitals and physicians build out their IT infrastructure—likely focusing on grants for EMRs and e-prescribing technology, if past HHS initiatives are any indication. The president has pledged that in five years, all of America’s medical records will be computerized.

Is healthcare IT the new “Field of Dreams”—build it and they will come? If so, questions remain on what to build, and how to build it, and who will determine standards. Many in healthcare hope for a hands-off approach, allowing industry to step in and promulgate technology and ideas.

Medicine also is becoming more quantitative; multimodality diagnosis is growing, too. The dawning of personalized medicine—as diagnosis moves toward earlier detection of disease—makes clinical collaboration among physicians via data-rich, integrated, easy-to-use IT systems essential.  

It is clear that IT can save lives. Healthcare facilities using computers have fewer patient complications, lower mortality rates, and lower costs. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers proved that patient mortality rates drop 15 percent during hospitalization when computers replace paper.

Armed with evidence that we can improve healthcare, let us collectively prove it to the nation.