Photo: AP

Just as a fresh coat of paint won’t keep a crumbling house from falling, investment in an expensive new IT system won’t fix a flawed health care organization. 

That’s what many struggling health care providers found when they forged ahead with new IT to meet electronic health records (EHR) requirements. According to a Black Book Market Research survey of health care providers, switching over to fancier new systems only made weaknesses more visible. 

Black Book surveyed thousands of hospital and IT personnel involved in health system changeovers. It reported that 87 percent of organizations that were struggling financially before the 2011 mass movement to new systems began now regret having done so. The fact that they had little choice offers scant solace. 

What were the symptoms of their financial distress? Black Book found that most prominent were higher than anticipated price tags for the new systems; dwindling in-patient revenue that trailed the expanding IT costs by a daunting amount; “disenfranchised” clinicians; layoffs and general concerns over the sagacity of the switch. 

Digging deeper, Black Book asked if in-patient revenue would eventually offset the investment in new technology. Fourteen percent said their in-patient dollars were fading so fast they would never recoup their investment. 

“It was a risky decision as hospitals were facing the fact that they would not be back to their pre-EHR implementation patient volumes, inpatient or ambulatory, for at least another five years,” said Doug Brown, managing partner of Black Book, in a statement. ”No other industry spends so much per unit of IT on the part of the business that is shrinking the fastest and holds little growth as did inpatient revenues.” 

The survey also showed that two-thirds of IT staff (excluding managers) believe the switch negatively affected medical care, and nine in 10 nurses said essentially the same. However, hospital executives didn’t agree; only 5 percent said the IT changeover negatively affected health delivery. No big surprise there, said Brown. 

“In our experience polling, most executives will not admit they were oversold or that their IT decisions had adverse bearing on patient care,” he said. 

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.

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