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A Time of Transition

February 24, 2010
by Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Informatics
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Transitional times inevitably bring with them a mix of excitement and anxiety. Individual people go through life transitions all the time; so do organizations, industries, and societies. And now, as Americans embrace information technology more enthusiastically than ever before, to fuel their work, home, and consumer lives, the question arises: is the healthcare industry listening?

In other words, given that IT supports and facilitates Americans' work and personal lives in broad, deep, and elaborate ways, can healthcare afford to be the only industry that touches consumers across the spectrum of society, yet which remains significantly non-automated?

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, healthcare has been the last major industry to move into the technological age. One reason: our industry is facing the challenge of undergoing two transformations at once, having to work through its first strides towards systematization of processes at the same time it is leaping into its Information Age. Given the complexities involved in having to make such a double leap, is it any wonder that technology advancement feels so difficult right now for providers?

Still, to put this into perspective, I've often asked, who would ever fly on an airline these days that required you to fill out paper forms in triplicate, using carbon paper, when you arrived at the gate? And who would open a checking account with a bank that required you to stand in line during your lunch hour to write out checks to cash (as I vividly recall doing less than two decades ago)? Yet healthcare in many patient care organizations today remains largely paper-based in its processes, with the same level of stumbling blocks to efficient and effective patient care (not to mention business processes). Indeed, the transition towards automation, and even more importantly, towards the continuous performance improvement needed to optimize patient safety, care quality, and clinician workflow, is still in its infancy in our industry.

Of course, the federal government got right into the middle of this issue when the U.S. Congress passed its ARRA-HITECH legislation as part of overall economic stimulus efforts in February 2009. With the carrot of federal stimulus funding being offered under ARRA-HITECH (and the promise of sticks to come, for those not willing to move forward), policymakers set forth a modernization plan for our industry whose rigorous requirements were meant to punt-kick healthcare forward into the future. Of course, the challenges of meeting the “meaningful use” requirements under ARRA-HITECH are many, and the strains are showing. Still, the demands being created by the funding legislation are ones that industry leaders agree would ultimately be required of providers anyway, as they move to respond to the needs and demands of their stakeholders going forward.

Meanwhile, even as the healthcare industry is going through a period of transition, so are its publications. And that includes Healthcare Informatics, where we've seen a change in editorial management. We're excited about the many opportunities going forward to bring you the most useful information, the sharpest analysis, and the most actionable insights from leading healthcare IT executives and industry leaders. And we're committed to bringing you only the very best in editorial content, to help you lead your organizations, and the industry, forward.

And as HCI evolves forward in the coming months, we will be eager, as always, for your input, feedback, and involvement in our ongoing journey together towards a top-performing industry and a better world. We know you do your part every day; the least we can do is ours.

In solidarity,

Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Informatics Healthcare Informatics 2010 March;27(3):6