That hospitals need to embrace health IT is a no-brainer. If Electronic Health Records, for instance, eliminated as many as 200,000 drug mistakes it would save a combined $1 billion or more each year. Congress has dedicated $30 billion stimulus dollars to move hospitals to electronic records, offering bonus payments for nimble doctors able to make the transition by 2011 and threatening penalties by any stragglers after a 2015 deadline.
But going from a no-brainer to a next step is, well, tricky. And without a clear blueprint outlining how to move from clipboard to computers, hospitals are left to improvise (yikes). Here's a look at a few health IT systems in test-drive mode:
Laptops for Note-taking
Prescription: The University of Virginia hired a bunch of scribes--yes, that's really their job title--to trail doctors, taking notes on laptops as doctors talk with patients and review test results.
The Upside: UVa has created a "nearly 100%" paperless hospital.
Side Effects: I'm pretty sure that stepping back 2,000 years in time is not a sustainable way to move the medical system into the future. Some have speculated that inserting another person in the process invites yet more errors.
iPhone Patient Charts
Prescription: Stanford Hospital started a trial last month with Apple and Epic Systems that lets docs access and update patient charts on the iPhone.
The Upside: Doctors can access patient info anywhere, any time, and more easily transfer complete records to other doctors.
Side Effects: Patients' privacy and security has been called into question by watchdog groups, which are queasy about the portable all-in-one device. Having access to sensitive patient info through an app icon that sits next to Diner Dash 2 and Texas Hold 'Em does seem startling. And awesome.
BlackBerrys as 21st Century Pagers
Prescription: The University of Pittsburg Medical Center replaced the pagers strapped to nurses and doctors with souped-up Blackberrys.
The Upside: Turns out, Blackberrys can do everything a pager can and (shocker) so much more! For example, one app lets ambulance staff send EKG images and vital stats directly to doctors' Blackberrys, so they're prepped before they hit the ER.
Side Effects: Possible Blackberry thumb. Privacy concerns.