Health Care 2.0

Moving toward a digital health-care system is the only way to improve research and quality of care. H-P’s Shane Robison on the new technology systems changing the health-care equation.

08.19.10 11:32 PM ET

Making a real difference in health care is not about expensive new technologies like robots performing surgery or treatments and unnecessary tests. It’s about getting the right information to the right place at the right time. By applying all that we’ve learned about the effectiveness of information technology in other industries, we can dramatically improve the efficiency of the health-care system and the quality of care it delivers.

In the U.S., 25 percent of medical claims and 65 percent of medical records are paper based.

Over the past 50 years, information technology has redefined nearly every industry. Look at financial services. It wasn’t that long ago that the majority of our banking was done through a local branch, where paper passbooks were stamped after each debit and credit. Today, you can access your money from ATMs in nearly every corner of the world. Transactions can be viewed instantaneously online. In retail, we used to be confined to what was available at local shops. Today, the world’s marketplace is at our fingertips.

In both cases, common protocols were established that opened up the pathways for information to flow freely, paving the way for dramatic gains in efficiency and innovation. However, it’s commonly known that health care is one industry that’s way behind. In the U.S., 25 percent of medical claims and 65 percent of medical records are paper based. But with better access to information, we can break down the barriers of the health-care system.

For payers, IT can make the process more efficient and will help lower the cost of insurance while shedding light on information that can enable preventive care. For example, Arkansas BreastCare wanted to extend its program more widely to underserved populations. H-P helped to set up an automated enrollment process that worked in conjunction with the state’s Medicaid program. With this in place, Arkansas was able to bring early detection to more women and raise awareness of breast cancer across the state. Program enrollment increased four-fold, helping 17,000 uninsured and under-insured women gain access to early detection, resources, and treatment.

For providers, technology can dramatically improve the quality of care by ensuring that the right thing is done at the right time, in the right way, for the right person. (In the U.S. alone, up to 98,000 deaths per year are attributed to medical errors.)

Perhaps nowhere has this ideal become closer to reality than at St. Olav’s Hospital in Norway, where technology has broken down the barriers of the traditional hospital. St. Olav’s, which serves 50,000 patients annually, is fully digitally integrated, from bedside to billing. Through thin client computers, patients have information and entertainment at their bedside. Doctors and nurses with mobile devices have access to patient information wherever they are, and can capture and share vital patient data, such as X-rays and lab results, much faster. But perhaps most importantly, all of these systems work together through a next-generation industry standard IT infrastructure, placing St. Olav’s at the forefront of 21st century health care.

Information technology is the key to affordable, quality care. But it is also the engine that is driving advanced research. With the power unleashed from industry standard hardware, integrating genetic and pharmaceutical research into everyday clinical care is becoming a reality. Harvard Medical School’s Partners HealthCare Center is taking steps toward that future. Working with H-P, Partners implemented a multicluster compute and storage solution to capture, process, and share the massive amounts of data produced in genetic sequencing for multiple individuals. Treatments that take into account not only your medical history, but your genetic makeup—in a timely and cost-effective way—are just around the corner.

Looking ahead, the country needs to take an open-standards approach that eases collaboration and information sharing across the entire health-care continuum. The end goal: a “digital health” system with the patient as the focal point—resulting in care that is more affordable, preventive, personalized, and transparent.

Information is the greatest resource available to us in the 21st century. With the right technology, we can harness the power of information to find a different answer for the way people live, the way businesses operate, and the way the world works.

Shane Robison is Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Technology Officer at H-P. He has been a technology executive in Silicon Valley for three decades, serving in leadership positions at Cadence Design, Apple Computer and Schlumberger Research. In 2004, he was named one of the world's 25 most influential chief technology officers by InfoWorld.