I have been writing on these same themes - irrational exuberance, HIT not being a panacea or cybernetic miracle, HIT as a facilitating tool in medicine, not a revolutionary one (but only if "done right"), inadequate research to back up the often grandiose claims, and so forth for over a decade ("Contemporary Issues in Medical Informatics: Common Examples of Healthcare IT Failure", link). I penned such sacrilege, often at risk to my career due the unpopularity of these ideas, itself due to the irrational exuberance of the HIT community (these attitudes were perhaps in part manufactured by a healthcare IT lobby).
Here are excerpts of what Wharton professors observed. Do read the entire article at the link above:
President Obama made information technology a linchpin in his plan to reform health care when he included $19 billion in computerized medical record funding in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The goal: Use technology to reduce costs and improve the quality of care. The reality: Technology could increase health care costs without markedly improving quality, according to experts at Wharton [except perhaps in very highly specialized projects, not easily portable, such as here - and not without its own set of problems - ed.]
... "No one has done the careful research to indicate that if one health care system has information technology and the other doesn't, then the care is different. There are no controlled trials," says Mark Pauly, a health care management professor at Wharton. All that technology is no panacea, he warns. In fact, he believes IT could actually raise costs because of culture clashes, training, the implementation of the systems [I would say "the mayhem that often goes on during the implementation" - ed.] and the labor required to maintain the new technology.
"The best-case scenario is that information technology will improve quality but not lower costs. The worst case is that there's no difference at all." [I believe if HIT is "done well", we can achieve best case, and lower costs as well to an extent, but there is enormous complexity behind the two simple words "done well" that I'm not sure we've fully mastered as a society yet - ed.]
... That opinion is echoed by other experts at Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania. "The focus on IT in health care is a good thing, but there's way too much hype about it [an understatement - ed.] and misunderstanding about what the benefits will be and how quickly they will come," says Peter Gabriel, medical director of clinical information systems at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
[Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine and health care management] agrees that tracking real cost savings from health care IT is a difficult task, but he expects there to be some benefits from spotting and eliminating redundant care. [Agree - ed.] But those benefits aren't likely to add up to big savings, says Lawton R. Burns, director of the Wharton Center for Health Management and Economics. "I agree that information technology is important, but it's not the slam dunk it's portrayed to be," he says. The chase to reduce costs, improve quality and expand coverage is deemed the "iron triangle of health care. A lot of us wince [at that goal]," Burns notes. "It's arguable that we can't do any of those things well."
David A. Asch, a Wharton health care management and economics professor, agrees that technology is a big part of reform. "No one is arguing against it, but that doesn't mean that it's not oversold," he says. Gabriel likens the fascination over IT in health care to a shiny new object that's easier to focus on relative to more daunting issues.
... In addition, it's unclear what cultural issues [a big theme in my writings - ed.] will emerge as information technology is adopted. These cultural issues are in the forefront of primary care physician relationships. Experts at Wharton and Penn say physicians are generally skeptical of the technology movement. How much will a technology overhaul add to operating costs? How much will it cost to retrain workers? What's the electronic record learning curve? And what happens when a doctor has a laptop between him and the patient?
"Individual physicians just don't know where the money is going to come from," says Pauly. "If IT is tied to reimbursements it could work, but [many] are skeptical." Burns adds that the physician-patient relationship can also be altered. "Technology adoption changes the way you practice. What happens when your primary care physician is looking at his screen instead of you?"
All themes obvious to me after an informatics fellowship and term as CMIO at a major hospital, and to a number of my like minded colleagues as well. However, these themes were as hard to get published and recognized (i.e., turned into "memes") as a book against Global Warming ...
The Wharton article concludes with this pithy wisdom:
Experts say these projects are worth the effort, but the industry should keep its expectations in check [i.e., ditch the irrational exuberance - ed.] and closely scrutinize investments. "To the extent [that] these technologies improve the quality of care and get the patient more involved, I'm all for them," says [Richard Neill, residency director and vice chair at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Family Medicine and Community Health]. "But the technology is not a sea change -- just a chance to change."
Anyone in Washington listening?
Finally, after a decade of writing on these same observations to a public apparently inclined to believe the myths and promised cybernetic miracles nourished by the IT industry, and getting nowhere until some very serious organizations caught on this year and joined in (the Joint Commission, the National Research Council, UK House of Commons, JAMA, AMIA, Wharton, etc.) I ask: can I go home now?