After you spend some time in the healthcare IT area you get to see brilliant-sounding ideas come and go. I’ve seen some clear patterns emerge from the many software and tech projects I’ve watched fail, and the few I’ve watched succeed:
- The human factor is dominant: Any tech product that’s based on how doctors (or others) should behave, rather than how they actually do behave, will fail. If doctors don’t like to type when they’re asking a patient questions, don’t design a product that makes them type when they’re asking questions.
- Not only does there have to be a real need, there also has to be a perceived need. That represents two different challenges.
- Nothing makes a project more likely to succeed than working models for success with similar products.
- The micro-need the product meets – for instance, in a doctor’s examining room – should be matched by a macro-need in the health sector as a whole.
These principles suggest that backing IT products for primary care is one of the smartest moves healthcare investors can make right now. Here are a few reasons why:
- The US may be the home of tech innovation, but primary care doctors in this country and Canada lag behind their European counterparts in access to IT tools – for writing prescriptions, accessing electronic medical records (EMRs), ordering tests and receiving results, and other key functions. That’s problematic – and an opportunity. Europe also provides successful working models.
- There is a political drive toward health care reform – and meaningful reform can’t take place without a renewed emphasis on primary care. Our country’s reported deficiency in preventive care is only one reflection of the need to upgrade primary care, and IT plays a key role in that process.
- Physicians want better technology as part of any overall health reform initiative. That was reaffirmed in a reform proposal put forward by a consortium of medical associations.
- The American Academy of Family Physicians is one of many groups supporting primary care IT initiatives – The AAFP’s TransforMED initiative includes online access to clinical data, and makes it possible to provide consultations online. Online consults are popular with patients and offer struggling family practice docs the chance to make more money (which reduces the incentive for physicians to enter specialty areas that can be less cost-effective for the health economy).
- Online collaboration tools can benefit primary docs and specialists. Systems like this one, which is designed to help physicians warn each other of potential problems with drug interactions, can require less development cost than some other types of health systems. (The problem with these systems is still the revenue model. They can be less expensive to develop than other large health IT systems, but charging for these systems has been a challenge. It might be better to seek grants and government funds, rather than risk going the WebMD roukte.)
The nationwide push for healthcare reform creates a favorable climate for investing in primary care IT. So does the fact that primary care docs need ways to maximize their income – coupled with the fact that increased use of primary care benefits the healthcare economy as a whole.
Think about it, investors.