Evanston Northwestern has realized the dream of the U.S. health-care system, a future where no one uses paper, test results move from lab to doctor to the medical records quickly, and where docs, nurses, patients, and insurers can easily swap info electronically. It’s a future where neurosurgeons can read X-rays and test results at home and decide whether a case merits emergency surgery before rushing to the hospital. And for a host of technology companies, it’s a future where hospitals and doctors become big tech buyers.
Today, that future is still more vision than reality. Annual health-care spending in the U.S. will hit $1.8 trillion in 2004, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. But less than 5% of that will go into information technology — far short of what’s found in financial institutions and most other service-oriented industries.
Today, health care is paying a price for its miserly tech spending. Disparate computer networks at hospitals, doctors’ offices, and health insurers are incapable of sharing information. Highly trained, highly paid personnel spend significant portions of their days performing manual chores, such as writing by hand in case files and dictating case histories for transcription.