Wiring hospitals will change the quality and business of health care by tracking patients and costs more efficiently. Here's what leading-edge hospitals like Hackensack University Medical Center are doing:
1. INVESTING IN TECHNOLOGY
Health care was so slow to adopt Net technologies that output per worker in the sector fell in the 1990s. Now spending is beginning to rise. Take Hackensack: Since 1998 the New Jersey hospital has spent $72 million to upgrade its tech infrastructure, automate its pharmacy, and roll out electronic medical records.
2. SELLING DOCS ON GOING DIGITAL
Doctor resistance is a major hurdle to e-health. To get past this obstacle, in 2002 Hackensack hired a trauma surgeon as its tech evangelist. He's making progress: The hospital's internal Web portal had 344,000 visits last year, up from 3,000 in 2000. Yet hurdles remain: Only 10% of tests and drugs are ordered electronically.
3. USING DATA TO BOOST QUALITY
The real payoff is finding errors and improving care. Hackensack halved the time between when a drug is prescribed and when it reaches the patient. It also redesigned its congestive heart failure and orthopedics procedures, improving to the top 10% of hospitals treating those diseases in a Medicare program.
4. GETTING DEALS FROM INSURERS
Insurers are paying more for better care, since it leads to fewer repeat visits. Medicare is testing a program that pays an extra 2% per case to hospitals with treatment scores in the top 10% for illnesses such as pneumonia, heart attacks, or hip replacements. Since Medicare pays for about 30% of U.S. hospital care, that's enough to double profits at some hospitals.
5. USING QUALITY TO LURE CUSTOMERS AND BUY MORE TECH
Insurers and big employers are trying to push consumers to tech-savvy, high-quality hospitals. How? They reduce co-payments if patients use preferred providers and post care-quality info on insurers' sites. Horizon Blue Cross is pushing cardiac patients to Hackensack because of the improvements it has made using tech.