This appeared a few days ago.
What health care will look like after the information technology revolution.
- By David M. Cutler on September 20, 2013
Why It Matters
Information technology can cut costs by driving the consolidation of health care.
The idea that technology will change medicine is as old as the electronic computer itself. Actually, even older. In 1945, Vannevar Bush, the man with the vision for the National Institutes of Health, foresaw a Memex computer program that would allow access to past books and records. A lone physician searching for a diagnosis in far-flung case histories was one of the applications Bush imagined.
Medicine is an information intensive industry. Yet there’s still no medical Memex. Even though the Internet teems with health information, study after study shows that medical care often differs greatly from what the guidelines say—when there are guidelines. Doctors frequently rely on their own experience, rather than the experience of millions of patients who have seen thousands of doctors. Not only is the past lost, the present is missing. How many times has a patient received a drug that causes an allergic reaction, just because that information is not available at the time it is needed?
Bit by bit, this situation is changing. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus bill), created the HiTech program, which allocates billions of dollars for doctors and hospitals to buy electronic health records systems. Since the program was enacted, rates of ownership of such systems have tripled among hospitals and quadrupled among physicians. In just a few years, it is reasonable to think that the entire medical system will be wired.
What will happen then? The introduction of information technology into the core operations of hospitals and doctors’ offices is likely to make health care much more like the retail sector or financial services. Health care will be provided by big institutions, in a more standardized fashion, with less overall cost, but less of a personal touch.
Health care today looks a lot like the retail sector did in the early 1980s, when clothes and household products were sold by many local stores and small chains. Quality was haphazard, prices were higher, and buyers’ experiences were mixed. Consumers had only the information they could see in the store or the Sunday paper.
Retail firms got larger when information technology became widespread. Walmart replaced the corner drug store and Amazon put the local book shop out of business because large firms can use information technology better than small ones—to manage inventories, create consistency, automate routine activities, and lower prices. Output per worker grew over 4 percent annually in the retail sector since 1995. Output per worker has fallen in health care over the same time period.
When the medical Memex finally arrives, look for health care to follow the retail track. The solo practitioner is likely to be the first to go. He or she will have to decide whether to try to become an IT manager as well as a doctor, or join a larger group of doctors. For most, the choice will be easy. The chance that a doctor over 65 works alone or in a two-person practice is about 40 percent. For young doctors, it’s less than 5 percent.
Lots more here:
The whole series is well worth a browse and from a group of people who know what they are talking about.