What is the rationale for investing in health IT that can be made to potential investors?
While some reallocation of resources and investment at the organizational level is important, many safety net providers that have implemented health IT rely largely on grant monies to initiate and sustain their programs. As evidence regarding the ability of health IT to improve healthcare quality, safety and access to care mounts, an increasing number of organizations will find that they have an incentive to contribute to its adoption. While not all of the benefits may result in quantifiable improvement in revenues, a strong case exists for how health IT can improve productivity and efficiency. As health IT adoption is still in its early stages, evidence in the literature is limited. Nonetheless, after initial start-up challenges, most providers who adopt an EHR note that the benefits outweigh the costs within 2 years.
The benefits of health IT can accrue in a number of areas. Errors caused by illegible handwritten orders and documentation and associated morbidity and mortality can be significantly reduced. Nursing productivity can increase with less time spent filing and maintaining charts and more available for patient care. Physicians can reduce the risk of transcription error by entering documentation themselves. They can also increase their productivity and efficiency due to the ability to access charts remotely reducing the need to make decisions with incomplete information or to physically go to the clinic or hospital to access a chart. Health IT can also lead to an increase in the overall efficiency in the provision of healthcare by reducing the ordering of redundant diagnostic tests, improving medication management, and accelerating hospital functions to reduce the length of hospital stays. Though interoperability is in early stages of development and adoption, the sharing of healthcare information among providers will likely produce significant benefit for overall healthcare productivity and efficiency as well.
As some of the important benefits of health IT use (e.g., reduction in medication errors, better management of chronic conditions and improvements in preventive health screenings) will accrue to purchasers and payers of healthcare, a business case for broader community investments in health IT can be made. Research shows several examples of healthcare providers that have been able to tap programs made available by charitable foundations or large employers in their area for direct assistance with health IT implementation. Support from non-providers may come in a variety of forms including direct one-time donations, partnerships on grant submissions and/or in-kind provision of goods, services and expertise. Providers interested in taking this approach must work within their associations and with patient advocacy groups to bring their business case forward and leverage available resources and funds.
Even after all strategies are exhausted, providers should recognize that very few health IT implementation efforts are able to achieve all their objectives in the first round of a new implementation. Providers should not be discouraged because funding for the "optimal" is not available and be prepared to seek goals that can be achieved within the resources that they have. Some cost-saving options that may be considered include leasing rather than buying hardware and working with vendors to achieve discounts based on a willingness to serve as a testing site for new products.
Additional Resources on making the business case:
Additional Resources on the link between health IT and productivity/efficiency:
E-mail the HealthIT e-mail box: firstname.lastname@example.org