While healthcare facilities exist to treat the sick and improve wellness, many of those same facilities limp forward struggling to survive. USA Today reported that on average 89 hospitals had closed per year over the past ten years, while healthcare experts David Houle and Jonathan Fleece suggest that by 2020 one-third of U.S. hospitals will close their doors.
Some hospitals are closing due to cash flow problems and credit downgrades. Others close their doors as a result of natural disasters, lack of competitiveness with other facilities, mismanagement, and a variety of other reasons. Healthcare facilities must not only treat the sick, they must remain healthy themselves.
Long term health for healthcare must involve strategies for reducing costs, improving care, responding to the changing demands of the market, and adapting much needed reforms in the healthcare industry. Technology can play a key role in helping facilities adapt in the days ahead. While technology is not a panacea for all the challenges facing healthcare, it can play a strategic supporting role in helping healthcare professionals reduce cost of delivery, improve care, and increase quality and outcomes.
Paul Taylor at HIT Consultant reminds physicians that meaningful use was never about incentivizing physicians to use EMRs. He quotes the CMS directly, “Meaningful Use is using certified EHR technology to improve quality, safety, efficiency, and reduce health disparities.” Technology thus becomes a valued partner with the healthcare facility in achieving desirable outcomes.
There are a range of other ways technology can be utilized to serve the challenges facing facilities, but many times these tools will require cultural change within an institution. As most people know, simply introducing a new tool does mean that people will use it. Training in and of itself cannot assure adoption of a helpful technology.
Consider the adoption of Facebook and email. While the Internet and mobile devices offer a wide range of helpful tools, websites and applications, many of these sites will be overlooked due to the vast amount of time people spend checking email and Facebook. Many people have habituated themselves to using these two particular tools on a daily and even hourly basis at the exclusion of a many other tools.
To introduce a new technology within a given system, users must become habituated. Training can introduce a tool and regulations may require adoption, but helping people change their routines is essential for deep embrace of valuable tools. Consider an example from Evernote.
When the mobile device application Evernote was first released, it was hailed as an excellent, adaptable note-keeping tool. I added Evernote, but didn’t use it for the first six months. I kept reading positive reviews and decided to change my daily routine for one month, forcing myself to use Evernote each morning. At the end of a month, I would assess and see it if really was helpful. After a month, the tool had become habituated and has since become the most valuable application on my mobile devices.
Every new change in process, every new application that is introduced must be repeated and repeated and repeated until it becomes habit. Email and Facebook offered communication and social incentives with simple interfaces that made it appealing and easy to adopt these tools. The challenge for healthcare facilities in the days ahead will require changing patterns of behavior in order to adapt to the changing requirements, cost reductions, and emerging possibilities. Technology can and must become a key partner in this transition, but it will require cultural, habitual change. Thus even as facilities adapt new technologies or introduce new tools, they must also have strategies for long-term adoption among users.
 Mary Brophy Marcus. “Study: Third of hospital ERs have closed over past 20 years.” USA Today, May 18, 2011. <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/yourlife/health/healthcare/hospitals/2011-05-17-ERs-closing-US_n.htm?csp=34>
 David Houle and Jonathan Fleece. “Why one-third of hospitals will close by 2020.” KevinMD, March 14, 2012 <http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2012/03/onethird-hospitals-close-2020.html>
 Jeffrey Young. “Hospitals Facing More Credit Downgrades, Threat Of Closures Looms: Report.” Huffington Post, April 17, 2012 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/hospital-credit-downgrade_n_1431582.html>