From The Editor | November 16, 2012

Healthcare Uncertainty Reigns Supreme

By Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief,
Follow Me On Twitter @KenOnHIT

Healthcare Uncertainty Reigns Supreme

I usually don’t reference studies conducted exclusively by health IT vendors in my columns. The main reason being I seriously question their credibility. Let’s face it, most research from health IT vendors almost always magically supports an investment in the products and services that vendor sells, and provides little additional value. However, I’m breaking this self-imposed rule this week by highlighting data from a recent study conducted by Greenway Medical Technologies titled Healthcare Information Technology: Trends And Transformations.

There are two primary reasons why I found this research compelling:

  1. The Audience Mix – Greenway captured the individual perspectives of three primary stakeholders in health IT initiatives — physicians, hospital CIOs, and patients/consumers. In total, 200 U.S. physicians registered with Sermo, 197 members of CHIME (College of Healthcare Information Management Executives), and 638 U.S. consumers participated in the survey. Greenway also presented the results in a fashion that clearly showed how each of these three groups responded to different questions. I found this peek into how health IT was impacting these three distinct audiences intriguing.
  2. Data Transparency —In short, I found Greenway’s data to be more honest than some of the research I’ve seen promoted by other vendors. There are definitely sections of the study where Greenway does its best to show how the data collected supports its best interests. However, much of the research exposes some telling, and often surprising, healthcare trends.

The ACO Conundrum

To me, the dominant revelation of Greenway’s study is the sheer amount of uncertainty that still exists among healthcare providers (both physicians and CIOs). No doubt, the dramatic changes that the healthcare industry is experiencing (e.g. reform, new reimbursement models, IT adoption, etc.) are to blame for this uncertainty. However, the details of healthcare reform have been public for a while now. I found it surprising how few providers were still unsure what steps they were going to take in light of these changes.

For example, according to the study 59% of the physicians surveyed were still unsure whether they were going to participate in accountable care or an ACO. Likewise, 50% of the hospital CIOs surveyed clearly stated that they do not intend to become part of an ACO. Obviously, there are other ways to achieve care coordination, a core emphasis in the ACA (Accountable Care Act), but ACOs have been largely touted as the ideal means in which to accomplish this universal objective.

Of course, these survey responses were collected prior to the 2012 presidential election. Perhaps the uncertainty surrounding the ultimate fate of ACA impacted the responses given by providers. I’d be curious to see if providers have clearer direction on their ACO and care coordination plans a few months down the road.

Health IT Is Not A Fix-All

Another surprising wrinkle in the Greenway study was the fact that the data collected wasn’t necessarily glowing for health IT. For example, only 28% of physicians surveyed stated that the health IT investments they have made have had a significant positive impact on their practices. 33% said their investments haven’t yet had a positive impact, but they expect them to over time, while nearly 23% said their IT improvements have made no improvements to their practices.

Hospital CIOs had a slightly better opinion of the health IT investments their facilities have made with 39% saying they have experiences significant advantages from their health IT investments, 33% saying they have yet to see results, but expect to over time, 19% saying it’s too soon to tell, and nearly 10% saying their IT investments have made no improvements to their health system. 

Physicians Central To Improving Healthcare

Greenway’s survey also provided some interesting insight into who these stakeholders feel are ultimately responsible for creating a smarter and more sustainable healthcare system. For example, nearly half of the physicians surveyed cited themselves as most responsible for creating a successful healthcare system, yet only 2% of physicians said they were actively taking steps to improve the healthcare system. 

Patients Hold Health IT In High Regard

Finally, Greenway’s research also indicates that U.S. patients/consumers are more technically savvy and ready for patient engagement then most providers give them credit for. For example, 52% of the consumers that responded to the survey considered themselves highly engaged and interested in their own health.

More intriguing is the way consumers currently use technology and perceive IT use by their physicians. For instance, 57% of respondents said they actively research their medical conditions and options online. Likewise, 56% stated that they notice that their physicians have been using health IT during their appointments and believe it helps the physician do a better job. This statistic contradicts the belief by many physicians that health IT creates a barrier between the provider and the patient. Only 7% of the consumers survey felt that technology creates a disconnect between them and their doctor.