Healthcare News & Insights

IT investments not paying off quickly for health care, report says

A lot of private and public money is being put into in EHRs and other health IT systems. But a new report says those investments aren’t saving health care as much as was expected. 

A much-cited 2005 study conducted by RAND Corp. claimed quick adoption of health IT could save the healthcare system more than $81 billion a year. Since then, a lot of money has been paid by providers, federal agencies and other organizations, including a total of over $10 billion in EHR incentives paid so far by the federal government.

Despite that, those expected cost savings remain elusive, according to a new RAND analysis, published in a recent issue of Health Affairs.

But the fact that those investments haven’t quickly paid off doesn’t mean that health IT isn’t worth using, says RAND — just that systems need to be more smartly developed and implemented. Part of the problem, the analysts say, is the “sluggish adoption” of health IT.

Improvements can also be made in how those systems are designed and used, the report says. RAND offers these three recommendations for software vendors, government agencies and healthcare providers:

Improve interoperability

The authors of the report say more redesign is needed to make doctors’ EHR systems standardized and able to communicate and share data with each other. That seems to be direction the federal government is looking to move in, too, as some predict the upcoming Stage 3 Meaningful Use measures will focus on improving coordination of care and information sharing.

The lack of interoperability has also been cited as one of the top challenges of implementing health information exchanges (HIEs), and could even lead to dangerous errors that threaten patient safety.

Increase accountability

Another thing the authors point out is that health IT on its own won’t make providers more efficient — doctors must also be given incentives to operate more efficiently.

RAND advocates the transition to ACOs and a move away from the pay-for-service model. The analysts say providers must do their part to take advantage of the opportunities for improvement enabled by technology.

Make health IT systems easier to use

As we’ve written before, EHR systems and other health IT won’t improve efficiency or the quality of care unless doctors, nurses and others recieve substantial IT support and training so they know how to use the systems. According to the RAND report, few health IT products are easy to use and they can sometimes slow down processes rather than speed them up.

A fix requires a combination of better design from health IT vendors and a greater investment in training and support from the providers implementing health IT systems.

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