Experts offer health IT help in new book

September 23, 2013 in Medical Technology

In The Healthcare Information Technology Planning Fieldbook: Tactics, Tools and Templates for Building your IT Plan, ($72, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society), authors George T. Hickman, executive vice president and CIO at Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y.,  and Detlev (Herb) Smaltz, a board member of Health Care DataWorks, known as HCD, provide a practical guide for developing an IT strategic plan. The pair talked to Healthcare Finance News, a publication owned by HIMSS, about their book.

Q: Please give us a brief description of your book, and share with us what you think is its most important take away for readers.

A: With the constant introduction of new medical and information technologies and system, regulation and changes driven by reform, the healthcare provider industry is in high need for the effective application of IT. Most health systems of even a modest size have unique transaction-based information systems (IS) that number nearly 100 strong; in academic medical centers, the number often is 400 or more unique ISs. Much of the information milieu did not evolve historically from enterprise-level planning but rather from tactical year-to-year needs, yet, today we have great cause to elevate our data and information capabilities to meet our missions.

So, what’s the big deal about planning? Recent business press has focused much attention on the organizational competency of execution – the discipline of getting things done. To be sure, a plan ineffectively executed will likely fail to fully achieve the benefits envisioned. But as Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat so aptly points out, execution without a plan is futile. (Siemens Health Services CEO) John Glaser nicely summarizes this in more pragmatic terms: We can have IT strategy failures in both formulation and implementation. Formulation failures are the most serious, since they can mean that the implementation strategies, no matter how well conceived and executed, are heading down the wrong path.

Ensuring that your organization is headed in the right direction is even more important because healthcare financial margins are so tight and enterprise-class healthcare IT investments, such as electronic health records (EHRs), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and enterprise data warehouses (EDWs), can be quite expensive. Unfortunately, IT project failures are the norm rather than the exception. A recent Standish Group study found that 71 percent of IT projects failed to fully achieve the envisioned benefits. With huge financial investments and a track record of less than stellar results, it seems prudent for organizations to ensure that their IT investments are well-thought out and aligned with business objectives.

[See also: El Camino to tap data to boost LEAN ways.]

The Healthcare IT Planning Fieldbook is intended to fill broad and multi-competency needs. There are many good texts that address strategic IT planning as a key or elemental topic. However, those publications may not be prescriptive enough for the new practitioner who is drafting a first time plan or for the advanced practitioner who is looking for new, tactical elements to augment a successful planning process.

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