Thursday, November 12, 2009

Doc Warns of ‘Magical Thinking’ on Health IT

Health IT“There’s this incredible magical thinking about health-care IT,” Jack Cochran said. “Once you put it in, health care will be saved.”

Cochran is an M.D. who runs the national umbrella organization for groups of Kaiser docs, and he was a practicing plastic surgeon for years, so he’s seen his fair share of health-care IT implementations. The subject came up this week when he dropped by the Health Blog’s office.

“It is a disruptive technology,” he said. “When you put it in, it slows you down.”

Still, Cochran does believe in health IT — if it’s done right, if the system is a good one and if doctors and nurses get enough good training. Getting up and running can be difficult, but IT can improve outcomes in any number of ways, he says.

Doctors get better evidence about their practices and their patients’ outcomes. A good system can also help get patients the care they need; when a woman who is overdue for a mammogram comes in for any reason, for example, a system can alert the doctor if the woman can get in for a mammogram that day.

But it’s easy to underestimate how much work it takes to get a new system going. “Physicians are accustomed to having the patient as the only focus,” he said, and they don’t like having to type data into a computer in the middle of an exam. “There is such a shock factor.”

This is a message worth bearing in mind over the next couple years, as the health IT provisions in the stimulus bill kick in, and more docs and hospitals around the country start buying IT systems. Beware magical thinking, and get ready for the shock factor.

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