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We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to make healthcare more affordable and to ensure better outcomes. Too often, the upshot is to reduce all problems and challenges to a singularity in search of a silver bullet. It never works, but it seems like human nature to take that approach.
Salesforce has taken a tactic that is bearing fruit, in part because it isn’t really trying to fix healthcare. Instead, it has set a more modest goal of making the information flow a little better. It turns out that this can have big positive effects.
Like many industries, healthcare began its information automation odyssey many decades ago by building systems of record — places that stored diagnostic data for rapid retrieval. Initially that was plenty, because a single doctor usually took care of the patient. When multiple specialists began treating the same patient, data got big and demands for it increased significantly.
Today an army of people participate in patient care — from nurses and technicians to doctors, both generalists and specialists — and they all need access to the patient’s data. Hospital IT was set up to serve the information needs of doctors in the hospital, but data consumers increasingly call for data in and out of the hospital and at all hours.
The End of Hospitals?
This is all brought home in “Are Hospitals Becoming Obsolete?” published earlier this week in The New York Times. In the article, author Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, presents some startling information for the layperson. For example, the peak year for hospitalizations in the United States was 1981, and they have been declining ever sense.
In 1981, there were 6,933 hospitals in the U.S., while there are now 5,534. It’s not healthier lifestyles that account for the decline, though. Healthcare, like Elvis, has left the building in favor of clinics, ambulatory surgical centers, birthing centers and other noncritical care centers.