What Technology is Worth Your Investment?

Kathryn Mackenzie, for HealthLeaders Media, July 22, 2008

I have always been interested in technology. I love playing with electronic gadgets and figuring out how to use complicated software programs. Technology news has been my secret passion since the first time I logged on to the Internet. My iPod, HDTV, PDA, and laptop are all much beloved parts of my life. So, it wasn't much of a leap to extend my tech curiosity to include the latest developments in diagnostic imaging and RFID systems. Especially since my fascination with technology is based in how it has the potential to improve our lives.

In healthcare it seems there is no shortage of "amazing technological breakthroughs" to get excited about. What I'm finding is that it's far more difficult to separate the hype from the reality and determine which of those breakthroughs will actually improve the way a hospital runs or the way a medical provider delivers care.

Sharing what I learn about the latest medical technology breakthroughs is certainly one of the tasks I've been charged with since taking the technology helm here at HealthLeaders Media. But just as important, I've been told, is writing about how the so-called latest and greatest will actually improve on existing technology. What is different? What is better? What are your peers saying about it?

For example, one of the topics that continually comes up in my conversations with hospital leaders and physician practice owners is the issue of interoperability. From the CEO to the solo physician practice I continue to hear the mantra, "Why would I spend $20,000 on an EMR that can't communicate with our local pharmacy?" That question alone may explain why only 28% of physicians say they use an EMR, according to a study released earlier this year by the California HealthCare Foundation. Those dismal numbers have prompted state-based lawmakers all across the country to wrack their brains with ways to convince hospital decision makers that the new, albeit more expensive, electronic method of record keeping is far superior to the old pen to paper routine.

Just recently, Vermont became the first state in the country to create a trust fund by a tax on health plans to help ease the cost on healthcare providers of implementing EMRs. Officials at Vermont Information Technology Leaders, the non-profit public-private partnership that runs the trust, say they expect the fund to increase EMR use in Vermont from 13% to 50% over the next five years. The health plans, which will be required to make their first payment on October 1, will have the option of either paying two-tenths of a percent on all healthcare of the previous quarter's claims for their Vermont members, or a fee based on a proportion of last year's overall claims. State officials expect to raise $32 million over a seven-year period.

I suspect that in a very short amount of time more states will follow in Vermont's footsteps to help facilitate the adoption of EMRs, especially if the VITL's adoption rates increase as much as they are estimating.

Of course, the trials and tribulations of EMR implementation is just one small piece of the vast medical technology universe that has been introduced to me in my new position at HealthLeaders Media, and I would love to hear from you about what technology you think will be worth investing in over the next five years. Is it wireless? RFID? Let me know what you think.

Kathryn Mackenzie is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at kmackenzie@healthleadersmedia.com.
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