Tony Ramos
Group Publisher
[email protected]

In the March 28 issue of Business Week, the cover story was about “The Digital Hospital.” While there certainly has been a plethora of changes to the ways in which hospitals conduct business and govern themselves over the past decade, the role of information technology has the potential to vastly change the hospital landscape going forward. IT could reduce patient mortality rates, increase quality of care, and improve productivity. For those patients who encounter a hospital stay, here are just some of the ways in which IT may affect and alter their care, according to the Business Week article.

• Digital drug-order entry systems are alerting physicians when a dangerous drug mix has been entered. An estimated 7,000 Americans die each year from drug-interaction problems, according to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.

• Many hospitals are now offering physicians the ability to access an internal Web site to examine x-rays from a PC anywhere within the hospital. The ability to examine an x-ray anytime and anywhere, and to share and discuss the x-ray with another health care professional within the hospital, is invaluable to quality patient care.

• Patients are now able to access the Internet for health care information directly from their hospital rooms, surfing the Net on large-screen plasma TVs. Information sourcing will continue to change the doctor-patient relationship.

• Hospitals are not the only ones willing to increase their investment in technology. Health insurers and the government are also recognizing that investments in IT are worth their price. In 2004, $25.8 billion was spent on IT gear, and this figure is expected to increase to $30.5 billion in 2006, according to the research firm Dorenfest Group.

• Hospital errors account for 98,000 deaths annually. While improvements in IT will not eliminate all aspects of human error, IT has the potential to greatly reduce the number of errors and deaths by giving physicians access to accurate information in a timely manner.

• With health care accounting for 15% of the US economy ($1.7 trillion), investments in IT will not necessarily reduce the amount that is being spent on health care, but it does have the potential to help ensure a more positive return on investment from the patient, provider, and payor standpoint.

One of the fastest-growing health care trade shows in the US is the annual Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference. Founded in 1961, HIMSS has grown into the premier membership organization for health care IT, and as their charter states, they are “exclusively focused on providing leadership for the optimal use of health care information technology and management systems for the betterment of human health.”  The annual HIMSS conference attracts health care providers from all areas of medicine, and the exhibitors include health information and IT providers that offer products, services, and solutions not only for hospitals, but for physicians and health care providers in all types of health care settings.

As we move into the years to come, IT will play an increasingly stronger role in how physicians, hospitals, and all health care professionals administer and think about health care.