How social forces can negate health IT's cost-reducing potential

Even in an era of political gridlock, EMRs have garnered bipartisan support, indicating a collective belief that such technology yields efficiency and cost-saving benefits — an important goal in the healthcare arena.

"Health information technology has the potential to save more than $81 billion annually in healthcare costs. From drastically reducing medical errors to streamlining administration, health IT is the key to transforming our healthcare system," states the GOP Doctors Caucus, initiated by former Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).

While it appears some of healthcare's greatest expense issues could be remedied with health IT, this is usually not the reality, according to Fortune. Technology's "Law of Amplification" suggests that despite IT's promise to make things faster, more efficient and less expensive, social forces that are already in place in an organization implementing the technology systems have a significant impact on their success. Technology use merely amplifies whatever cultural and behavioral norms are already in place.

Instead of using health IT to lower costs, it is often used to reinforce the various ways in which spending is encouraged. "Our hypochondria as patients, our foibles as doctors, our greed as suppliers and our myopia as policymakers — all are social forces that technology regrettably amplifies," Fortune states.

If reducing spending is the goal, adding more technology isn't a guaranteed solution; lower costs aren't an outcome of health IT itself. In contrast, this technology requires additional upkeep and spending. As healthcare organizations continue to adopt and develop EMRs and other digital tools, it is important to be aware of whether culture, incentives and process are already aimed at cost control, and address potential issues during the planning and implementation stages.

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