Healthy Attitude

President Obama's federal stimulus package boosts the IT impact on healthcare.

Operating IT budgets rising. Tech job postings multiplying. Billions of dollars lining up for investment. Eager vendors swarming like bees to a hive. No one has quite figured out, for example, exactly what meets the "meaningful use" standard that the stimulus money requires.

Sound like any industry you know these days? If you've bumped into any healthcare CIOs lately, you already know the answer.

Our cover story ("Booster Shot") delves into the substantial IT impact that President Obama's federal stimulus package is having on the healthcare industry. Up to $50 billion will be available over the next five years for digitizing medical information and streamlining delivery of patient care. And with only 2 percent to 3 percent of all U.S. hospitals even using electronic medical records (EMRs) today, there's a lot of uncharted ground to cover.

"We're getting cold calls from every electronic medical record vendor out there," says Paul Contino, VP of IT at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "It's a feeding frenzy."

Yet as our story points out, healthcare CIOs are doing something a lot smarter than using IT to modernize medical processes. With years of experience working through various e-health initiatives, they've wisely used that time to forge stronger C-level partnerships, develop business buy-in and set up the kind of success metrics that an entire company can rally around. "With what we've invested in IT, the board expects us to receive every dollar of the stimulus available to us," one chief medical officer says. He makes sure those same directors are aware of the uncertain road ahead for medical automation. Other CIOs stress how crucial the support of senior medical executives becomes once access to patient data begins to open.

In some ways eerily reminiscent of the late '90s rush to install ERP systems, the race to deploy EMR systems is fraught with dangers that include immature technology, integration hurdles and patient privacy concerns. On top of all that, the federal rewards (and penalties) tied to specific e-health reforms are still in a state of political flux.

What the healthcare providers profiled in our story all share—from massive New York medical centers to a 55-bed hospital in Maine—is a profound conviction that the IT/business partnership will be their most critical success metric. Considering the challenges ahead, that's a very healthy attitude.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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