Purpose: Health information technology (HIT) is perceived as an essential component for addressing inefficiencies in healthcare. Without understanding the challenges that limit meaningful use of HIT, there is a high chance that institutions will convert complex paper-based systems to expensive digital chaos.
Recent findings: Clinical information systems do not communicate with each other automatically because integration of existing data standards is lacking. Data standards for medical specialties need further development. Database architectures are often designed to support single clinical applications and are not easily modified to meet the enterprise-wide needs desired by all end-users. Despite the improvements in charge capture and better access to health information the realized savings and impact on patient throughput is not enough to cover the cost of the technology, maintenance, and support. HIT is necessary for improved quality of care but it increases the cost of doing business. Poor user interface and system design hinders clinical workflow and can result in wasted time, poor data collection, misleading data analysis, and potentially negative clinical outcomes. Healthcare organizations have little recourse if a vendor fails to deliver as intended once the vendor's system becomes embedded into the organization. Decisions on technology acquisitions and implementations are often made by individuals or groups that lack clinical informatics expertise.
Summary: Government incentives to increase HIT will likely result in a more computerized clinical environment. Understanding the challenges can help avoid costly mistakes. The future looks promising but caution is warranted, as achievement of full benefits of HIT requires addressing significant challenges.