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Technology Can Help Fight Health Care Costs

According to a recent Florida State University study, hospitals can combat spiralling health care costs by investing more in IT// for all hospital operations.

According to Ken Lubben, information technology specialist for the two hospitals, Manatee Memorial and Lakewood Ranch Medical Centre, have already made big investments in improved technology in the last few years. He said that, the hospitals are yet to reap any real financial benefits from it, and it would probably take a few years before they see any return on that investment.

250 leaders from business, the health insurance industry and others in health care in a 2006 Commonwealth Fund survey ranked the use of health care information technology use as a top priority to combat high health care costs. According to the FSU study, even though there are definite advantages with the IT for health care facilities, adoption of technology in health care has lagged behind as compared with other major industries.

Dr. John Halamka, chairman of the New England Health Electronic Data Interchange Network, and chairman of the Health Information Technology and Standards Panel, established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that, other industries spend 12% of their operating budget on IT while health care spends only 2 to 3%.

According to research by Forrester Research, an independent technology and market research company, the IT budgets at large U.S. hospitals are expected to rise about 3.1 percent in 2006. Hospitals are expected to invest mostly in clinical software improvements, but also will probably increase their investment in data storage, particularly in the area of picture archiving, communications systems and disaster recovery, which became important in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The hospitals, Manatee Memorial and Lakewood Ranch Medical Centre owned by Universal Health Services are the fourth-largest for-profit hospital company in the country. The company manages 28 acute-care hospitals nationwide and employs more than 30,000 people. The Chief Executive Officer Alan Miller told Forbes Magazine earlier this year that they are implementing the latest tools and equipment into the company's hospitals. He feels that's what makes them more successful than other hospitals. He further states that it cant be expected of doctors however good to give proper medicine if there is no proper tools.

Manatee Memorial's started digitalising the patient records in December 2004. The system helps keeping record and track of everything from admitting records to lab and radiology reports. It can also access insurance information and link with other pertinent hospital information. Lakewood Ranch Medical Centre, which opened in September 2004, uses the electronic patient record system. It was also one of the first hospitals to implement the Siemens Sorian system, a sophisticated new hospital information system that records and maintains information electronically. With the new system the clinical staff can access patient records securely and also helps in making patient care more efficient, from diagnosis to treatment to billing, Lubben said. This has resulted in reduced costs for the hospital since it reduced the cost of archiving and retrieving paper files.

Lubben further stated that in 2004, Universal Health Services also invested into a new digital system for X-rays and radiology tests for the Manatee County hospitals. Thereby there’s no need for doctors to now wait for x-ray prints but can easily access the patient X-rays electronically through the computer. This has helped in improving services for the patient through quicker access to reports, by faster distribution through the hospitals and if necessary between two different hospitals. Also stating that the nurses and clinical staff at Lakewood Ranch Medical Centre also use a digital order entry system that allows them to do their assessments and lab and radiology orders on a wireless laptop at the patient's bedside, rather than lugging heavy charts around.

Later this year, they plan to implement the same technology at Manatee Memorial, he said.


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