Healthcare IT: Is it helping us?

Yeah it is helping us, that’s what most of the doctors perceive as per a recent survey conducted by Accenture across eight countries with a sample size of 3700 doctors. The sample included baskets having 500 doctors per country in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain and the United States and 200 doctors in Singapore between August and September 2011.

Figure 1: Source- Accenture Newsroom

Key areas where Healthcare IT was strongly rated to have a positive impact were:

  • Better access to quality data for Clinical research (70.9 percent of the sample reported positive benefits)
  • Improved coordination of care (69.1 percent)
  • Reduction in medical errors (66 percent).

What is one common thing amongst these three areas? The key variable behind these three areas is efficient data management and interchange which has been brought about by the healthcare IT revolution. Healthcare delivery being a complex cognitive environment, there is always a need for complex decision making which is mostly critical in nature. The attribute of providing right information at right time has resulted in these positive perceptions towards role of IT in enabling clinical research, improving coordination of care and reducing medical errors.

There are some areas about which the study population seems to be skeptic about (where they have responded with “negative impact”, “no impact” or “didn’t know”)

  • reducing unneeded procedures (43.6 percent)
  • improving access to services (43 percent)
  • improving patient outcomes (39.2 percent)

If you notice, all these three areas are potential outcomes which have multiple-causality. There are many direct and indirect causations which can impact these areas. Most of the clinicians have a viewpoint which sees more direct cause-effect and looks for direct impact of clinical actions on the outcomes rather than indirect causations, owing to their experiences. From the viewpoint of a clinician, “unneeded procedure” is more a function of clinical choice, similarly “patient outcome” for doctors is more a function of success of clinical regimens and surgical procedures. IT may play a role of enabling tool in these but to ascribe the direct causality of “reducing unneeded procedures” and “improving patient outcomes” is rather too much to expect and ask for.

Another interesting finding of this survey is that U.S. physicians have rated the benefits of EMR and HIE lower than their international colleagues. This comes from a country which is investing the most when it comes to healthcare IT. Why is that? Is it because excess of reforms and IT fume already doing rounds in the air have made them obnoxious? Or is it that IT has reached a point of diminishing return and they are increasingly seeing less value in it?