With speedy communication networks and smartphone apps covering everything from restaurant reviews to interactive games, it seems that information technology (IT) is on the path to dominate the 21st century. With it, investments in IT promise to bring efficient communication methods to various industries including health care. A recent report published by the Bipartisan Policy Center discusses the benefits of expanding health IT as a tool to better serve patients, increase spending accountability, and reform current payment methods. Their report, spearheaded and endorsed by players on both sides of the aisle, emphasized the burdens of a largely paper based health care system.
According to the Center’s report, seamless information sharing through health IT would place patient care at the forefront of the system. Interoperability, or the ability to access digital medical records, plays a crucial role in providing timely and real-time medical information including test results and drug combinations. Additionally, a comprehensive IT network would assist rural and smaller practices in consulting specialists regardless of location. The availability of patient records would ultimately facilitate real-time decision making practices and prevent redundant and wasteful procedures.
Though the IT field is growing, barriers such as privacy concerns and misaligned incentives prevent aggressive expansion of health IT. In their detailed report, the Bipartisan Policy Center advocated that payers and providers align payment and incentives in order to shift to a value and results driven system. The current health care reimbursement system is based on the principle that doing more results in higher reimbursement and better quality. Obviously, this is not true. Payers and purchasers instead need to focus on rewarding payments for quality outcomes and changes rather than what has been performed. Without emphasizing actual health improvements, any reforms will fall short of true reform.
Both public and private sectors also need to formally open and accelerate the use of these electronic tools by providing consumers with accurate information and digital security in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). This information pathway however, should not only focus on the consumer but also on sharing pilot study data conducted by both public and private sectors. With increased communication between the two, the public sector should not be afraid to integrate lessons learned from the private sector and vice versa.
Despite being catapulted into the information age, it’s important that we remember that though IT is everywhere, health IT is still lagging behind. In a time of economic hardship, wasteful spending and much needed reform, we have to do everything we can to hurry it all along.