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Remedies for the Meltdown: What savvy healthcare organizations need to do now

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:13pm

Crounse_2006 by Matthew Barrick compressed In the January 6th edition of Hospitals and Health Networks Weekly on-line journal, my colleague Ian Morrison offers an insightful editorial on the impact of the world financial meltdown on health and healthcare.  He rightfully points out that the health industry isn’t immune from financial downturns; only that the painful effects are often delayed a quarter or two compared to other industries.

When one considers that even in a healthy economy a third of American hospitals lose money and another third only make up for their losses because they have investment income; it becomes clear why the recent collapse in our economy is especially worrisome to the healthcare sector.  For the full picture, I suggest a thorough read of Ian’s piece.  If ever there was a time to “reinvent” healthcare in America, this is it.  I particularly hope the Obama administration will listen carefully to the experts and dismiss the perverse incentives, rewards for inefficiency, and special interests that plague health and healthcare delivery in America.

image I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers to our healthcare woes.  I’m not an economist, but I do  know that no country in the world can afford to provide everything to everyone.  Reforming healthcare in America will necessitate some very hard choices about who gets what, when, and how.  You may recall that the state of Oregon tried to develop such a “list” during the Kitzhaber gubernatorial administration.  As ever more expensive drugs and treatments become available, these choices about who gets what will become even more challenging.  It is clearly time for a national dialogue on the topic.

From my particular vantage point, I see other challenges for the industry.  Most of us would agree that our American health system is woefully behind in its use of information technology.  Depending on what studies you believe, tens or hundreds of billions of dollars could be saved by implementing contemporary IT solutions in health.  However, I must also say that I tend to agree with opinions expressed by Drs. David Kibbe and Brian Klepper in their piece on THCB; Let’s Reboot America’s HIT Conversation.  The holy grail isn’t necessarily electronic medical records.  While there is little doubt EMRs and EHRs are part of the solution needed to enhance patient safety and care quality, more immediate gains may be realized by greater emphasis on preventive health services, personal health record solutions, home monitoring of chronic diseases, home care, and more efficient modalities and models (including the medical home concept) for the delivery of health information and medical services.  HealthBlog readers know that I am a strong advocate for e-Health services as part of the solution.

image The current economic climate  also demands that healthcare organizations look for greater value from their existing investments in IT as well as ways to save money on new investments.  If ever there was a time to be more rational about how money is spent, this is it. 

In that spirit, I’d like to share some information that was recently sent to me by our subsidiary in Australia (slightly modified for HealthBlog’s worldwide audience).  Is it any wonder why I so much enjoy working with my colleagues down under?  They totally “get it”.

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Dear CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO, CMIO, VP Nursing, Physicians and other Clinicians:

In today's economic climate, many healthcare organizations are looking for ways to reduce costs, increase productivity and improve patient care. At Microsoft, we believe that making the most of what you already have is a good way to start.

It doesn’t always require major new investments on your part to improve your IT infrastructure. Visit Microsoft Health for more information on how to make more of your current IT resources. We’ll help you see where you may be able to improve your system - from the server room to your desktops, notebooks and Smartphone - to increase your organizational efficiency and reduce your overhead.

Reduce maintenance and support costs, improve your network’s performance and provide better information retrieval and security with server and application virtualization. Find out how Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center consolidated servers by 75 per cent.

Reduce travel costs and improve caregiver collaboration, information management and patient care with Microsoft unified communications. Learn how this helped Resurgens Orthopaedics save over $100 000.

Balance budgets, resources, staff and amenities- to improve patient care with a Microsoft performance management reporting solution. Read how managers at Royal Children’s Hospital of Melbourne use business intelligence dashboards and scorecards to measure performance in real-time.

Improve your day-to-day IT operations and reduceoverheads by consolidating your data center and standardizing your IT environment. German hospital, Asklepios was able to make laboratory data available 75 per cent faster and radiology results 89 per cent faster - all with an 18 per cent reduction in overhead.

See if the software you already own can help improve your system - you may already have your solution in hand. Refer to the Microsoft Health Web site for more information.

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By the way, next month I’ll be speaking at a number of industry events in Australia.  I hope to see you there.  And even if you can’t attend in person, I promise that I will be detailing my travels right here on HealthBlog!

Bill Crounse, MD   Senior Director, Worldwide Health    Microsoft Corporation

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