Payoffs not always clear with IT investments

Investments are often risky, but the current huge investment in health IT seems to bring a particularly unique risk.

Why? Well, because when you come right down to it it’s not always clear what the payoff is going to be.

Commenting on a recent symposium sponsored by the Center for Connected Health, one observer noted that “In so many ways, so many kinds of Health IT make perfect logical sense. Making patient medical records easily accessible in electronic format? A no-brainer. Giving patients access to their own records which, after all, belong to them? Makes sense. Tools that help clinicians make quick and accurate evidence-based diagnoses at the point of care? Well, of course that's a good idea.

But try proving it.”

She goes on to concede that “There is some research suggesting that electronic health records can have a positive impact on quality. But for medicine, so enamored with empirical evidence, double-blind studies, and peer review, it isn't always enough.”

One symposium participant noted that the lack of evidence as to effectiveness isn’t “just a healthcare thing—there's very little science about the efficacy of technology in any field,” and our observer seems to suggest that perhaps not all healthcare technologies demand equally rigorous study.

For policymakers and HIT proponents, however, there’s an added wrinkle to this discussion. Specifically, having decided to pitch in several billion dollars of taxpayer money to expedite the HIT transition, policymakers in particular are on the hook for at least trying to demonstrate that the investment will be worth it.

Apparently, though, that won’t always be easy.