One-on-One with IBM Research Fellow and Johns Hopkins Professor Marion Ball, Ed.D.

June 2, 2009
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IT adoption is failing because systems aren’t providing clinicians with the information they need at the point of care, says Ball

Marion Ball, Ed.D., is a fellow at the IBM Research Center for Healthcare Management and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (both are based in Baltimore). She is also co-chair of the executive committee for the Technology Informatics Guiding Education Reform (TIGER) Initiative, which was formed in 2004 to bring together nursing stakeholders to develop a shared vision, strategies, and specific actions for improving nursing practice, education, and the delivery of patient care through the use of health IT. A highly respected expert in the field of healthcare IT, Ball has authored several pieces, including an article in Methods of Information in Medicine that examined why clinical information systems are failing. Recently, Associate Editor Kate H. Gamble spoke with Ball, who is also a member of the Healthcare Informatics Editorial Board, about the report’s findings, the mission of the TIGER Initiative, why IT adoption is still low, and the importance of involving clinicians in the planning, development and implementation of IT systems.

 

KG: What was your impression of this year’s HIMSS conference?

MB: Well I’m a little prejudiced because I was there when it started, and I think that now, it’s just out of control. It’s become too big, and it’s frustrating. This year particularly in Chicago, just the enormity of having to walk one end to the other, I just felt I did more walking than learning. It wasn’t one of my favorite HIMSS conferences.

But I’ll tell you what was gratifying. We did a workshop on healthcare 101, and we had so much interest that we had to turn people away. There is a great interest in healthcare informatics and how the whole field is developing for new people. The workshop was for newbies who don’t know anything about how the CEO, the CIO and CFO work together within a healthcare setting. So that’s what our course was. That part of it was good.

I’m a former (HIMSS) board member and I know that they were very concerned as to what the turnout might be. They had a lot of attendants, but it needs to be restructured so that one can get more out of it, in my opinion.

 

KG: I agree. Let’s talk about the report you co-authored that was published in Methods of Information and Medicine. The basis seems to be that one of the key reasons why health IT adoption is so low has been the failure to provide HCPs with effective and efficient health IT systems. Is that fairly accurate?

MB: Yes, but you have to be a little bit more precise in that they’re not getting the information that they need at the point of care. In other words, we give them so much information that it’s like they’re being fed with a fire hose and everybody gets it from the same fire hose. So the physicians who are internists and obstetricians and psychiatrists all get the same template. If you’re a gynecologist, you don’t need to have the information that four years ago a patient broke her leg when she’s there for an OBGYN checkup.

These are the types of things that the vendor community is addressing. So the problem with the clinical users, which is the physician and the nurse, is they do not use existing healthcare IT from the vendors that gives them what they want. And instead of making their life easier, we’re making their lives more difficult. So the whole idea is, how can we make them do less work and not more work. It’s very simple, but those are the kind of key words that people will resonate to. We want to do less and have the technology with some decision support and some really good behind-the-scenes, easy programming do a better job for us. So that’s primarily what the situation is.

 

KG: And a large part of that is not just providing the information a clinician needs about a specific patient, but also delivering that information in a way that’s tailored to their individual needs?

MB: That’s right, so in other words, the system must adapt to the user, and not the other way around. It needs to cater to what we need, and not be set up so that we’re serving the computer. And we need a rapid adoption; it’s got to be the iPhone of the future, where it’s intuitive, where it really helps, and where people will embrace it.

Right now, we have to be adaptable to any of the vendors’ healthcare systems, and that’s not the way it should be. They need to be adaptable to the physician, the nurse and the pharmacist; not the other way around. And in product development, we need much more significant input from physicians and nurses who are in the line of fire, at the point of care, to say, ‘look, this is what we need when we’re in the emergency room. This is what we need when we’re in a doctor’s office in the private practice.’

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