How Can Information Technology Improve Health Care Quality?

The health care sector has languished behind almost all other industries in adopting information technology, which has the potential of vastly improving quality. For example, a variety of studies have found that prescribing drugs through a system known as computer physician order entry, compared with a handwritten prescription, greatly reduces the incidence of the wrong medication being prescribed or the wrong dose dispensed. There are significant barriers to the adoption of information technologies in health care. These barriers include technical and infrastructure obstacles, initial implementation costs, provider resistance, current reimbursement structures and a lack of more uniform standards that would allow products from different vendors to work together.

To what extent are hospitals and other providers using information technology to bolster quality? What role should the federal government play in encouraging providers to adopt technology? How have technology developments helped or hindered doctors, hospitals and patient care?

To help examine these questions and others, the Alliance for Health Reform and The Commonwealth Fund cosponsored a May 7 briefing. Panelists were three of the country’s leading experts on the use of information technology in health care: Robert Crane of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.; Janet Marchibroda of eHealth Initiative; and Tom Sullivan of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Ed Howard of the Alliance moderated the discussion, with Dr. Anne-Marie Audet of The Commonwealth Fund.