How IT Can Produce Better Patient Care

Martha Heller talks to Dr. Bob Laskowski, president and CEO of Christiana Care Health System, about how technology is empowering physicians and patients.

How is technology changing the healthcare industry?

Let me respond with a story: On the first day of my internal medicine rotation at the University of Pennsylvania, a distinguished professor held up Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. He told us to memorize the book, because it contained everything we needed to know.

Memorization has been expected of physicians since the Middle Ages. Today, that same textbook is on my smartphone in my pocket. I don't need to memorize it. I can just look up the information I need. As physicians, we no longer need all that knowledge in our minds; we are free to focus more on our patients and on new ways of delivering healthcare. This alone is revolutionary.

As you point out, the medical profession is thousands of years old. How do you create a culture where healthcare professionals embrace technology change?

We have a favorite phrase at Christiana Care: "Better and easier." The phrase was originally used for IT, but now we apply it to everything from process change to organizational redesign.

If you want to convince people at Christiana Care to do something differently, explain how it will be better and easier for the healthcare professionals and their patients. That's a compelling argument.

I recently saw a cartoon that had a physician looking at a computer with his back to the patient. That's not the fault of technology; that's poor design. Technology should make it easier for doctors to focus on patients and make the patient's experience a better one.

Can you give an example?

Last year, we developed Insight, a tablet-based self-evaluation tool that allows patients to communicate their medical concerns to their doctors prior to their actual appointments. Insight was initially developed for cancer patients, who tend to have so many concerns that their questions vanish from their mind during their time with their doctors.

Now, patients sit down in private, when they are calm and able to reflect, and use the Insight tool to provide information, ask questions and express their concerns. The tool also helps patients overcome discomfort about discussing sensitive emotional and physical health issues when meeting face-to-face.

This way, the physician and patient can spend all their time together addressing the most critical and troubling issues, not gathering data.

In the world of healthcare, what is the next big technology innovation on the horizon?

We tend to focus on the information that surrounds a patient, but there is a tremendous amount of information that is actually in a patient, and that's where I see great opportunities for technology innovation. The prospect of making a person's DNA relevant to her healthcare presents a computing challenge of astronomical proportions and profound significance.

Equally as exciting is the way technology will continue to empower individuals to manage their own health. As medical and patient information becomes more accurate, accessible and easily distributed, we will see patients becoming more knowledgeable and more in control of their health. This kind of patient self-actualization has the potential to be revolutionary.

Martha Heller is president of executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates and author of The CIO Paradox. Follow her on Twitter:@marthaheller.

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This story, "How IT Can Produce Better Patient Care" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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