Technology Transforming Healthcare

October 26, 2010

The state of healthcare IT in the U.S. is grossly behind other developed countries. But that's changing quickly. The landscape is transforming and will soon look nearly unrecognizable as new technologies emerge. A major force behind the change is the Internet, which is a growing source for patient education, patient and physician networking, and data sharing and utilization.

The state of healthcare IT in the U.S. is grossly behind other developed countries. But that's changing quickly.

"We have failed to invest, and other countries have caught up with us, and now we are behind," said William Crouse, MD, senior director of worldwide health and executive producer of Health Tech Today at Microsoft Corp., speaking at an opening session Tuesday (Oct. 26) at the MGMA 2010 annual conference. "My fear is we've taken our eye off the ball in medicine."

Crouse offered a dire picture of the technology lag in the U.S. For example, the U.S. spends about 43 cents per capita on healthcare technology, compared with Canada's $32 and the U.K.'s $193. Only about a third of American physicians are using EHRs, while nearly all of their colleagues in the Netherlands are using them, and 94 percent in Italy use EHRs.

Despite the lag, the landscape is transforming and will soon look nearly unrecognizable as new technologies emerge. A major force behind the change is the Internet, which is a growing source for patient education, patient and physician networking, and data sharing and utilization.

For technology to really catch on with clinicians, Crouse said, there must be more intuitive interfaces with systems and more options for data input (from voice to digital ink to even no-touch screens). Solutions must also be mobile. "Clinicians are mobile workers," Crouse said.

The future of health IT is happening today, often in larger organizations such as the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, where an online system has allowed providers to move some 30 percent of primary-care volume online. It has also allowed them to increase patient satisfaction and reduce costs and demand in services, Crouse said.

"This is what consumers want," he said.

In a few years, healthcare will continue to become more consumer-centric, as data will be more organized around the patient. Programs such as Microsoft's HealthVault and Google Health, which compile and share patient data, will grow in use and popularity, Crouse said.

Further, applications will continue to move to the cloud, that is, they will be hosted online rather than on individual systems and software. "It’s affordable, and it's doable," he said.

For more MGMA 2010 conference coverage, be sure to visit our MGMA Conference Insider page.

Sara Michael is senior editor at Physicians Practice. She can be reached atsara.michael@ubm.com