Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Breaking it to the American public

Sunday's New York Times had an excellent editorial: "World's Best Medical Care?" The article begins as follows:
Many Americans are under the delusion that we have “the best health care system in the world,” as President Bush sees it, or provide the “best medical care in the world,” as Rudolph Giuliani declared last week. That may be true at many top medical centers. But the disturbing truth is that this country lags well behind other advanced nations in delivering timely and effective care.
Most health care professionals already know this to be true. It's also true that we lag behind most of those same countries in the use of health IT. The connection between health IT and quality is pure correlation at this point -- no one has proven causation. Health IT won't be a panacea anyway -- most "wired" physicians I've worked with point out that the technology has only revealed for them how much the technology can't fix and how deep our problems really are.

Looking across countries, I'll bet that greater IT use is not a cause of greater quality, but rather, it's an indicator of a better health care system. Those systems have aligned incentives in a way that encourages not only IT tools but a whole host of processes and behaviors and tools to improve quality, safety, and efficiency -- exactly the opposite of the incentives in the U.S. system. Doesn't mean that adding health IT won't improve the U.S. -- I think it will. But we shouldn't kid ourselves about the fact that we're sub-optimizing -- until we have a health care system that is fundamentally oriented toward improving the quality, safety, and efficiency of care, we'll continue to be outperformed by our peers, regardless of how much technology we put in place.

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