The More Hospital IT Changes, The More It Remains The Same

Once every year or two, some technical development leads the HIT buzzword list, and at least at first it’s very hard to tell whether that will stick. But over time, the technologies that actually work well are subsumed into the industry as it exists, lose their buzzworthy quality and just do their job.

Once in a while, the hot new thing sparks real change — such as the use of mobile health applications — but more often the ideas are mined for whatever value they offer and discarded.  That’s because in many cases, the “new thing” isn’t actually novel, but rather a slightly different take on existing technology.

I’d argue that this is particularly true when it comes to hospital IT, given the exceptionally high cost of making large shifts and the industry’s conservative bent. In fact, other than the (admittedly huge) changes fostered by the adoption of EMRs, hospital technology deployments are much the same as they were ten years ago.

Of course, I’d be undercutting my thesis dramatically if I didn’t stipulate that EMR adoption has been a very big deal. Things have certainly changed dramatically since 2007, when an American Hospital Association study reported that 32% percent of hospitals had no EMR in place and 57% had only partially implemented their EMR, with only the remaining 11% having implemented the platform fully.

Today, as we know, virtually every hospital has implemented an EMR integrated it with ancillary systems (some more integrated and some less).  Not only that, some hospitals with more mature deployments in place have used EMRs and connected tools to make major changes in how they deliver care.

That being said, the industry is still struggling with many of the same problems it did in a decade ago.

The most obvious example of this is the extent to which health data interoperability efforts have stagnated. While hospitals within a health system typically share data with their sister facilities, I’d argue that efforts to share data with outside organizations have made little material progress.

Another major stagnation point is data analytics. Even organizations that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their EMR are still struggling to squeeze the full value of this data out of their systems. I’m not suggesting that we’ve made no progress on this issue (certainly, many of the best-funded, most innovative systems are getting there), but such successes are still far from common.

Over the longer-term, I suspect the shifts in consciousness fostered by EMRs and digital health will gradually reshape the industry. But don’t expect those technology lightning bolts to speed up the evolution of hospital IT. It’s going take some time for that giant ship to turn.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.