Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Measuring EMR Impact

Experts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have launched a three year study of health IT systems that are operating in various stages of implementation at four medical organizations. The National Science Foundation is funding the study for $750,000. Over the course of the study, the research team will work closely with the leadership at primary care sites, conduct a series of interviews and observational sessions with physicians, management, and support staff. The researchers will observe the planning for health IT implementations and observe the roll-out of the systems in various locations, and examine how management and staff adapt to the new systems and tools.

“Adapting to computer systems will be a learning process for primary care organizations, for physicians, and even for patients,” said Diane Strong, Ph.D., Professor of Management at WPI. “From what we observe, we will develop new ideas and new concepts for healthcare delivery, such as better ways to organize work flow and make decisions to take advantage of the new opportunities that IT systems provide.”

Two of the organizations to be studied are located in Massachusetts. One is the Fallon Clinic a large group medical practice located in Central Massachusetts. The other Massachusetts organization is UMass Memorial Health Care, an integrated medical system with 700 primary care physicians, several community hospitals, and an academic medical center serving Central New England. The organizations outside of the U.S. involved in the study include the Vancouver Coastal Health District with a primary care office in Canada and two sites in Israel.

Israel is unique and operates their hybrid healthcare delivery model with four health funds that provide medical care to the entire population. The study will examine primary care practices in two of the health funds that provide care in Israel.

Israel, for example has the most extensive experience with health IT since Israel has more than 90% of physicians already using the technology. “Looking at the experience in Israel will give us a reality check,” said Professor Isa Bar-On Ph.D., Professor of Mechanical Engineering and one of the principal investigators leading the study. “We’ll see what works, and what doesn’t work and learn from people who have been using these systems for more than ten years. We will look at organizational changes in response to the implementation of these systems. We want to see how people live with the systems.”

The four sites were chosen because of their diversity of operating models, management structures, financial systems, and cultural differences. The sites are all at different points on the continuum of migrating from paper-based systems to fully digital systems which should provide the researchers with a broad range of perspectives and data for analysis.