Last week I traveled to Moorhead, MN, to attend Sharp 2.0, a unique symposium that focused on the intersection of operations management and health informatics. The symposium was a collaboration of Minnesota State University Moorhead, Oklahoma State University and the Mayo Clinic.
The symposium highlighted many exciting new technological advances in health care, including new methods of pharmacy inventory management, the continuing challenges of physician use of electronic medical records, and examples of how country-wide electronic health records can be used.
Pharmacy Inventory Management
The use of robots in health care continues to expand, particularly in pharmacy management. However, automation by itself will not necessarily improve operations. Maari Loy of Sanford Health provided an overview of the optimization of their robotic systems using classic supply chain management mathematical models. Their sophisticated use of these math models, complemented by advanced data mining techniques, resulted in a 25.9 percent decrease in inventory cost per year.
Physician Use of Electronic Health Records
As electronic health record use expands, its acceptance by physicians continues to be a challenge. Cherie Noteboom of Dakota State University conducted a study on physician interactions with EHRs. She divided the doctors into two groups: Digital Natives (usually younger) and Digital Immigrants (usually older and more experienced). Her findings were quite counter-intuitive.
She reported that the Digital Natives found the EHR systems frustrating as they were not as easy to use as their customary technology (e.g. smart phones, Facebook, etc.) In addition, the ability to customize these systems was difficult and inflexible. By contrast, the Digital Immigrants embraced the EHR once they became comfortable with its use. This is because they now had access to data and features that were never available with paper charts.
A country-wide EHR takes a pause
The Netherlands has been an early leader in installation of a country-wide electronic health record system and has a fully functional system with more than 47,000 providers using it daily. Joseph Barjis of Delft University provided an overview of this system and the politics surrounding its use. For the past year, the system has been assaulted in the press by privacy advocates and, in April of 2011, the Dutch parliament voted to shut it down. It is unclear what the future holds, although it appears that local applications will still operate, but record sharing among providers in the future is uncertain. There are, no doubt, lessons here for the architects of the state health insurance exchanges in the United States.
IBM’s presence in health care is now limited to its general software, hardware and consulting activities. However, the first application for its Jeopardy champion computer Watson is in health care. Paul Maglio of IBM Research – Almaden presented a new project, which he is leading, whose goal is to develop a model of the entire health care system. The IBM approach is an open source model in which contributors can add in their models as part of an integrated “mash up.” Much as open source software has been very successful due to the many developers who freely add improvement, IBM hopes that their model will grow and expand in a similar manner.
SHARP 2.0 was an exciting demonstration of the many technology innovations now entering the field of health care delivery. Have you seen any technology innovations like these in your experience? How do you think technological innovation could affect health care delivery?