Healthcare & IT: Oil & Water?

I don’t think it has to be that way, but the history of IT adoption and implementation in healthcare might lead many to believe otherwise. True, there have been major advancements just over the past decade, but from a public policy perspective, have federal policy initiatives helped – or hindered – that progression?

I think most everyone would agree that information technology holds great promise in improving the value of healthcare delivery. And by greater value I mean assisting caregivers and clinicians produce better outcomes at lower cost. Except that in many instances it’s not working that way.

Practical Experience
Courtesy of the healthcare policy-oriented site,
KevinMD, I recently came across a blog post by Dr, Christine Sinsky that made me decide it might be a good time to bring this topic up again with you. Dr. Sinsky’s blog post, Hazards of Poorly Designed Decision Support, is an anecdotal yet nonetheless compelling reality of IT utilization in healthcare. The decision support system in question is Trinity Health’s mandatory DVT Advisor.

DVT stands for deep venous thrombosis, which in laymen terms means a blood clot that that forms in a vein deep inside a part of the body. DVTs are most common in adults over age 60 but can occur at any age. If the clot breaks off into the bloodstream, it is called an embolism, which can get stuck in the brain, lungs, heart, or other area, leading to life threatening situations.

DVT Advisor was implemented in response to Meaningful Use requirements. You can read Dr. Sinsky’s post if you would like to understand the practical frustrations she found in using it, but for the purpose of this post I will summarize the key points.

From her perspective (my interpretation now) there are two key areas of the system that are counterintuitive to facilitating value creation as I describe above: unnecessary input requirements and decision tree logic rigidity that was unable to capture and reflect the patient’s situation (i.e., usability challenges). In essence, the system created more work – and more importantly, introduced a new level of potential risk – than would not have existed without its use. Now that, Pub patrons, is what’s known in laymen terms as, “stupid.”

In the interest of fairness and disclosure I want to note that Dr. Sinsky was complimentary of certain elements of the system; e.g., “the information in the DVT Advisor can be a useful reference if a physician is uncertain about anti-coagulation, but its intrusive and insistent characteristics are based on hope and belief, rather than evidence.”

Policy Issue
And so here’s the policy issue: you have an IT decision support tool that has the potential to add value but for the fact that its design has actually lowered it. Now,
I have been an ardent proponent of supporting advancements in HIT as a primary means of improving productivity and efficiency – and thus lowering care delivery costs. I have been less enthusiastic about the top-down approach of HIT policy the federal government has employed to advance those efforts. I have also believed, however, there is the need for an active role of government in helping advance health IT adoption. The what and the how of that role is less certain today.

So for me, Dr. Sinsky’s post is not the needle-in-the-haystack that generated an intellectual epiphany on my part regarding the effectiveness of HIT policy efforts. There is more than enough research and literature supporting logical skepticism for the open-minded to consider. Rather it was more of the straw within the haystack that broke the camel’s back. I am looking for some pub patrons that understand this subject-matter much better than me to weigh in here.

There are some of the most brilliant minds in the world working in HIT – in the clinical and nonclinical arenas – but I sometimes wonder if they can’t get out of their own way to understand the pragmatic nature of value creation. And I wonder if federal policy and governmental agencies haven’t been just willing abettors counting more on hope than evidence as Dr. Sinsky points out.

Please, prove me wrong – show me the evidence where HIT public policy has been more effective than not.


P.S. Please click on the hyperlink above associated with Dr. Sinsky’s name. This will take you to her website where there is a wealth of information on HIT based upon her and her husband’s professional contributions.

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