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Another IT Cautionary Tale

By August 26, 2009November 4th, 2009Commentary

For many years the British government has worked to upgrade its National Health Service in a variety of aspects.  One has been to improve and expand the use of health information technology.  While progress has been made, it has not yet met expectations.  A recent Financial Times article chronicles some of the issues.  (FT Article)  A planned nationwide electronic medical records system is years behind schedule and billions over budget.  Now the Conservative party, likely to win the next election, says the national system should be scrapped.

We should hope that policymakers, information technology companies and providers here will pay close attention to the problems that have arisen in Britain and the United States, as well as the successes that have occurred, and take those lessons as a guide for current efforts to increase electronic medical record and other health information system.  Throwing tens of billions of dollars at the effort may only ensure that it proceeds in a haphazard, inefficient manner.  Careful planning and careful attention to the extensive implementation and training efforts required of providers is critical.  A balance is needed between centralized direction to ensure consistent specifications and standards and local input to ensure buy-in and a system that provides useful functionality.  Expectations need to be lowered for both the speed with which systems can be put in place and the financial savings which might result.  Being very, very careful on the front end might avoid the extensive problems now occurring in Britain.

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