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Outdated Healthcare IT Infrastructure Can Weigh Down Organizations

The healthcare industry has missed two technology change cycles, so many organizations are burdened with legacy healthcare IT infrastructure.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Fred Donovan

- The healthcare industry has missed two technology change cycles, so many organizations are burdened with a lot of legacy healthcare IT infrastructure.

That is the judgment of Bob Renner, CEO of cloud-based data management firm Liaison Technologies. He told HITInfrastructure.com that information technology needs to be “ripped and replaced” every 10 years, but healthcare has missed two of those cycles, so it is “ripe and ready to upgrade and update.”

“When you've gone that long without really modernizing your infrastructure, it's more difficult,” he said.

For one thing, cloud computing wasn’t widely available back then. “Everything was behind a firewall. The way you secured data was physically. You physically localized it in data centers and monolithic applications,” Renner noted.

“So, healthcare organizations a facing a pretty big challenge logistically, technically, and from a resource standpoint” to update their infrastructure, he added.

When healthcare organizations begin to upgrade their technology, they need to consider the data integration problem. Some healthcare CIOs are opting for one centralized platform, such as Centricity, Epic, or Cerner. While this solves the data integration problem, it comes with “significant tradeoffs” in terms of functionality, Renner commented.

When healthcare organizations deploy new technology, they will need to hire “top talent” to implement that technology. Unfortunately, “it's already a tight labor market, and if you want to upscale your entire IT staff, that's a big problem,” he said.

Renner related that graduates of good computer science and engineering programs do not want to enter healthcare because of the legacy technology.

“It's a vicious cycle. If you have legacy technology, you're not going to attract top talent. Once you don't have the top talent, you can't make the conversion to modern technology,” he said.

Recognizing this talent shortage, many healthcare organizations are focusing on staff retention efforts in addition to hiring new staff.

In fact, three quarters of medical practices have some type of formal employee appreciation program, according to a survey of more than 1,000 organizations by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

“As the healthcare industry continues to experience clinical and nonclinical staff shortages, retaining the best possible team to power a medical practice is more important than ever,” said MGMA President and CEO Halee Fischer-Wright.

Making the Business Case for Change

Renner explained that oftentimes healthcare CIOs try to make the business case for upgrading infrastructure by focusing on cost savings. They argue that new technology will lower the costs of claims processing, for example. That is a difficult case to make when you are talking about a major digital transformation.

“When you're trying to make a shift to a data-centric environment, you have to have a certain amount of vision and belief that your data's going to be valuable, and it's going to allow your company to innovate and transform the patient experience and improve patient care,” he said.

The Liaison CEO predicted that upgrading IT infrastructure will provide a competitive advantage for healthcare organizations over those who still have legacy technology. Patients have a lot of information at their fingertips, so they can research to find the best healthcare provider with the best technology in their area.

As organizations consider upgrading their legacy IT infrastructure, they should approach it in a strategic way. “The first decision that these health systems or hospital systems need to make is, do they want to be best of breed where they can adopt new applications as they come available fairly quickly or do they want to get locked into a single vendor solution and live with the tradeoffs,” Renner said.

“Whoever's running IT or making the decision really needs to make that strategic decision first. That's going to dictate if it's a big project or if it's a series of smaller projects,” he added.

“Think about the applications as replaceable and think about data as your asset. Once you start looking at it through that lens, it guides every decision you make,” he said.

“Make sure that you can plug in any data source or any application so that you can have the most current and best data available and treat your data as an asset because that will help you serve the patient better,” he concluded.


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