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March 23, 2015

Money and technology are not a content strategy

Having the budget to buy new technology isn’t the same as having a content strategy. Case in point: the US government has spent billions on electronic medical record (EMR) systems that can’t communicate with each other.

The American taxpayer has funded the installation of electronic records systems in hospitals and doctors’ offices — to the tune of $30 billion since 2009. While those systems are supposed to make health care better and more efficient, most of them can’t talk to each other.

[Technology entrepreneur Jonathan] Bush lays a lot of blame for that at the feet of this federal financing.

“I called it the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ bill,” he says. “It gave $30 billion to buy the very pre-internet systems that all of the doctors and hospitals had already looked at and rejected,” he says.

On the surface, the idea of installing the EMR systems makes sense: sharing medical records electronically increases efficiency and accuracy, and it eliminates duplicated medical procedures. Unfortunately, the offices installing these systems were blinded by the government funding and didn’t ask some important questions:

  • What are the business goals the new technology must support? Easy exchange of medical information is a primary reason for implementing EMR systems. Therefore, the selection processes should have focused on interoperability and support of standards for data exchange.
  • Can I trust what the vendors are telling me? Generally, vendors are not going to volunteer information about their products’ deficiencies, tell you whether a product is reaching the end of its life, and so on. That’s where some good research on industry web forums, LinkedIn, and elsewhere can help you uncover information to back up (or refute) vendor claims. Also, spending some money on solid advice from a third-party consultant (such as Scriptorium) is a smart investment, especially compared to the cost of a system that ends up not supporting your needs.
  • What is the exit strategy for moving to another system? If you outgrow a system, how hard is it to transition to another system? Can you, for example, export data to an industry standard format that other systems can import? Completely re-creating information in a new system is an inefficient, error-prone time sink you want to avoid.

It’s always great to get the budget to buy new tools and technology. Just be sure the tools you buy support clearly defined business goals.