How Should Fed HIT Dollars Be Spent? Cat vs. Dog POV.

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“Where’s the single best place to get up to speed on how the Feds should  spend $20 billion to advance health information technology (HIT)?”

A colleague asked me this question a couple of days ago, and at first I hesitated.  Then it struck me — Matthew Holt’s The Health Care Blog has become the focal point for discussion of this critical topic.

Matthew’s very recent article — Cats & dogs: Can we find unity on health care IT change? — summarizes the two schools of thought that have emerged over the past two months.

His article is important and notable for a number of reasons:

  • He crystallizes the two emerging schools of thought — the dog vs. cat POV (see below)
  • He summarizes and links to many other key writings on the HIT spending topic
  • He suggests that the dog and cat POV can be reconciled — that there’s a middle road
  • He suggests several initial options to reconcile the differing schools of thought.  This discussion should continue.

If you’re interested in disease/care management, this is a topic you should be following closely. While the first decade of DM focused on a services based, call center model — the handwriting is on the wall that the next decade will focus much more on a technology based model.

Companies and organizations involved in disease/care management should be positioning themselves to take direct and indirect advantage of the Federal injection of funds.

Here’s Matthew Holt’s summary of the dog vs. cat perspectives:

Outcomes vs. technology: The Kibbe/Klepper/Peters/Neupert/Bush faction (the dogs) assumes that we need to change the incentives in the system, and then IT will naturally follow—and the current embryonic decision support systems will flourish quickly. But that current clinical systems aren’t good enough to invest in mostly because current results from EMR installations are very disappointing.

Although they discuss incentives (and most of the $20 billion will probably be aligned with some P4P measures), the cats’ (Leavitt/Halamka/Kolodner view is closer to the thought that if you get the appropriate clinical technology (essentially in-patient and outpatient EMRs) into the hands of clinicians, then they’ll figure out what to do with it, and eventually the government can pay them according to how well they do it. (Halamka is a bit more open about this also being an IT public works scheme).

Patients vs. facilities: There’s also a more philosophical bias which harkens back to the difference between American and European health care systems, but not in the way you might think. The dog faction is in general primarily in favor of light-weight tools (and standards) that allow for innovation and service of the consumer patient by primary care teams (that’s the European part). The recent emergence of Web-based tools and patient communities that allow patients to apply self-service techniques and easy communication with teams of providers (yes, yes, that’s Health 2.0) are for them the keys to enabling better care. These tools are relatively cheap (and flexible) and mirror the SaaS trends in the rest of technology. (Think Gmail vs Outlook).

The cats’ view is closer to the opinion that the real work in American health care happens in big hospital systems, and that the key is to get everyone connected to their core clinical systems. Hence the concern with standardizing on products and private networks (RHIOs) rather than allowing a mass of anarchic applications out on the Internet which are more likely to “mash-up” together.

If you’re a regular reader, you’d understand that I’m a dog person (with apologies to our two cats — Simon and Hoover).

Read the rest of the Matthew Holt’s excellent essay here .