Hopes are high for technology to improve patient care, yet IT departments need to invest in the infrastructure required to run electronic health record (EHR) applications, according to a new report by CDW Healthcare.
CDW offers IT services to more than 15,000 health care organizations in the United States, including providers in rural areas as well as large hospital networks.
The research, called "Healthcare IT Tipping Point Report," found that 84 percent of caregivers believe health care IT improves the care of patients.
For the survey, CDW interviewed 200 health care IT professionals and 202 caregiversdoctors and nursesat large hospitals between Jan. 9 and Jan. 23. The company announced the results March 6.
About 40 percent of caregivers said health care IT gives them more time to spend with patients.
"With well-conceived and supported health care IT, caregivers spend less time accessing and verifying information and more time using that information," Bob Rossi, vice president of CDW Healthcare, told eWEEK in an email. "Moreover, new endpoint systems put tools and information within reach of the caregiver while they are with the patientproximity is a big advantage in utilization."
In the survey, 85 percent of doctors and nurses believed that the information gleaned from health care IT applications would lead to better patient care, while 72 percent thought technology would make care more accurate.
Meanwhile, 68 percent of caregivers interviewed believed IT workflows could help them follow up with patients.
Despite the prospects for patient care, the report exposed some challenges for IT in health care as far as networking, storage and computing, according to Rossi.
"As a report card on the performance of IT departments at large hospitals, this is a solid A," said Rossi. "That said, the survey results also demonstrate how out-of-balance systems can result in user frustration and wasted time."
Balancing new caregiver systems with infrastructure investments is a challenge, said Rossi.
"Consider that 58 percent of the surveyed health care IT professionals admitted to adding a server, storage or network program after hearing complaints of slowed systems from users," he noted.
Even as EHRs help doctors follow a patient's history, the applications can run slow without the proper infrastructure and the EHR software, or "endpoint systems," can be unintuitive, CDW reported.
"Without the supporting infrastructure, endpoint systems can end up slow, unreliable or extremely difficult to use," said Rossi. "No matter how great the tool, if the caregiver has to wait minutes to access it, or can only access it sporadically, the value will be substantially less."
The report also warned of a "crunch" as more wireless devices consume bandwidth and EHR and health information exchange (HIE) applications work off system resources.
"Just to add mobile devices to the networks, hospitals have had to increase infrastructure," Rossi noted. Of the health professionals surveyed, 55 percent added wireless devices, 44 percent purchased more security hardware or software, 38 percent added more software applications, 32 percent upgraded wireless network capacity and 32 percent bought new application servers, he said.
Rossi recommended that health care organizations anticipate the capacity needed for health IT, including wireless devices and EHR systems, ahead of time.
"Responding to user concerns after the fact is the most expensive approach to meeting infrastructure needs," said Rossi. "By capacity planning first, IT leaders can take the pressure off of infrastructure investment."