THE GUST OF gas from the enthusiastic booth-person blasted the California doctor like a shot of pepper spray. "First… fully integrated… workflow compatible… no other system… scalable… only one on the market… large installed base… fully compliant… best of breed… leverages existing systems… " The doctor took a pen and moved along, muttering vaporware and smoke and mirrors as he slouched down the HIMSS show floor.
Why doesn’t anyone believe what they hear at a technology expo (in healthcare no less than anywhere else)? Why is it so hard to get at truthabout features and functionality, which are never universal and often have more to do with integration functions than with the product anyway? It’s in nobody’s interest for vendors to set up customers to believe their stuff can do more than it can, yet many persist in optimistic sky-writing that provokes near-universal cynicism about the technology industry upon which all of healthcare depends. And we in the media are complicit, casting our own uncritical interpretations into the general industry cacophony. As Tim Hargarten, president and CEO of Kinetra says, the industry has done a wonderful job of confusing the customer.
Nevertheless, the news is good: 1998 appears to be even more exciting for healthcare because many of the most promising tools and technologies are at or nearing application--thanks in large part to the vendors who’ve built them. Smart cards and XML, encrypted electronic signatures and fingerprint security systems, voice recognition and patient-centric solutions (finally), clinical alerts and continued miniaturization. By year end there will no doubt be some real life stories about what these technologies can do for healthcare.
Last year’s enthusiasm was the Web: done. This year’s excitement rises straight from a string of business, regulatory and commercial incentives that have converged to place clinical care and everything that surrounds it--outcomes measurement, decision support, disease and case management, CPRs, data warehousing and telemedicine--right at the center of healthcare development. The financial and back-office tools that were the focus of earlier technology application are in, up, and for the most part, running. Now all the talent and innovation the industry can muster will be focused higher up the value chain: on the clinicians and patients who are its reason to be. All the hyperventilation about technology aside, this will mean better healthcare--no lie.