Real Healthcare Reform Via IT


by Samuel Greengard

While the healthcare debate rages over both politics and practicalities, it's easy to overlook the fact information technology is driving change more than any politician or lobbyist.

In fact, whether or not Congress passes legislation or the public forces changes to the current system, the healthcare field is about to undergo the most radical transformation in its history.

While examining IT and healthcare for an upcoming Baseline magazine story, I came across some eye-opening research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The consulting firm reports that a new and emerging field of personalized medicine will challenge IT mightily. Click here to learn more.

Essentially, personalized medicine targets individualized treatment and care based on personal and genetic variations. The field incorporates telemedicine, medical device and diagnostics capabilities, and even human genomic testing. In many instances, these systems relay data onto physicians and other healthcare professionals in real-time. The market for this niche is already $232 billion, and PwC projects that it will grow by 11 percent annually.

Meanwhile, electronic medical record (EMR) initiatives are steadily pushing healthcare organizations to adapt. A second PwC study found that it's not only the direct medical data residing in the records that's valuable to healthcare providers. More than three-quarters of the respondents from the survey indicated that secondary data could help them predict public health trends and reduce healthcare costs. Click here to read more and view case studies.

Among other things, PwC reports, de-identified and aggregated data collected from health records, insurance claims, clinical trials, lab and radiology results, employer benefits, disease management companies, researchers, manufacturers and payers could provide fodder for predicting and improving health outcomes. It could also assist in identifying new markets and opportunities--while at the same time reducing medical errors and fraud.

Overlay all of this with a spate of other healthcare initiatives--including electronic physician order entry, RFID tagging for patients, wireless tablets and smartphones that practitioners use throughout hospitals and clinics, unified communications, bedside touch screen devices, and also back end initiatives revolving around server virtualization and business continuity--and it's easy to see that this isn't your granddad's IT shop.

Make no mistake, this Brave New World represents huge and ongoing challenges. CIOs and other IT executives must sync with business units like never before. They must build robust and efficient networks. They must use virtualization, data clouds, SOA components, and analytics to push information collection, management, and delivery to the point of contact. And, not surprisingly, as collaboration grows, security and privacy become more important.

How IT departments act and react will ultimately determine which healthcare organizations thrive and which wind up on life support. As Daniel Garrett, partner and leader of PwC's health industries technology practice puts it, "The potential...has yet to be unleashed."