In 2013, Your Health IT Should Enable a Sustainable Operational Strategy

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In 2013 and beyond, healthcare organizations will have an opportunity to deploy a surplus of information technology innovations to solve strategic challenges. According to the "2013 Payor and Provider Industry Perspective" report compiled by Booz & Company, changes in health IT are in store for healthcare organizations as the industry becomes more patient centric.

According to Booz & Company's report, the following four IT outcomes are likely:

• Interoperable electronic health records could provide seamless transitions for patients and better clinical decision support for physicians.
• "Big data" could generate actionable consumer insights and better risk management.
• Cloud computing could reduce costs and connect care within and among sites.
• Telehealth could improve patients' access to care and lower costs.
• Social media could help engage and mobilize consumers in more effective ways.

While the promise of technological innovation is compelling, in order for hospitals and health systems to capitalize on these possibilities, they need to position IT to be an enabler of strategy and not a result unto itself, says Gary Ahlquist, senior partner in Booz & Company's healthcare practice. In some sense, technology is and will continue to become a critical enabler of sustainability in hospitals and health systems as well.

IT should enable a hospital's strategy
Executives need to know what technology is necessary to support and enable the hospital's strategy and sustainability into the future. In order to determine this, there are a few essential questions executives must ask themselves.

"From a strategic standpoint you need to step back and ask: What are the IT components to enable this strategy? What capital or investment resources do we have?  What capabilities are we good at? How do we leverage those capabilities to make us stronger and shore up our weak ones?" says Mr. Ahlquist. "If we are a large health system with multiple institutions, what is the geographic deployment of those institutions? Are they closely clustered or do we have a national footprint? What does that imply for how we  design and implement our technology strategy?" he continues.

Moving through the phases of IT implementation
Another barrier to address is that the individual pieces of an IT program are not enough to enable the hospital's operational strategy. According to Mr. Ahlquist, this barrier is common because hospitals are stuck in a beginning phase of IT implementation.

"[Many hospitals] are in a phase you might call intra-organizational implementation. Most hospitals for example are pursuing electronic medical records and/or personal health records," says Mr. Ahlquist. "It is not clear yet that they have realized the hoped-for results, and it seems to be taking a lifetime to get them implemented."

Unfortunately, not as many hospitals are moving to the second phase, which Mr. Ahlquist calls the integration and results phase. In this phase, IT and EHR systems are integrated across an enterprise to change workflows so that patient outcomes may be positively affected. The third phase is where hospitals and health systems allow their IT systems to connect and exchange information with other organizations so that patients can flow more seamlessly. Mr. Ahlquist calls this the inter-organizational phase. Finally, the fourth phase brings technology to the individual patient through social media and mobile IT so patients are engaged.

According to Mr. Ahlquist, many hospitals are not properly aligning their strategy and technology to progress through these phases. When executives use technology to support their strategy, the progression past implementation toward optimization is more seamless.

When you have been on a long journey with a complicated IT initiative, fatigue sets in and you get a survivalist mentality of 'Let's get to the finish line,'" says Mr. Ahlquist. "That is a false finish line. The real finish line is when the hospital sees costs reduced, the quality improved and the enablers of those two goals evident — changing work flows, a more productive labor force and happier physicians. Those should be the real goals."

When initiatives are truly strategy driven, the technology decisions are more strategy driven as well and the result is a more meaningful use of technology.

More Articles on Health Information Technology:

5 Recommendations to Fulfill Promise of HIT From Rand
4 Health IT Security Predictions for 2013
The Rise of Big Data in Hospitals: Opportunities Behind the Phenomenon

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