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2006 is Year of the RHIO, but Now-Gauche Technologies Can Help Patients Today

April 30, 2008 News No Comments

Inside Healthcare Computing has graciously agreed to make previous Mr. HIStalk editorials available from its newsletter as a weekly "Best Of" series for HIStalk. This editorial originally appeared in the newsletter in February 2006. Inside Healthcare Computing subscribers receive a new editorial every week in their Electronic Update.

Every HIMSS Annual Conference is the “Year of the Something.” CPOE, PDAs, networks, wireless, or CHINs. Newly minted experts fill HIMSS meeting rooms with audiences of the mildly curious, the crassly opportunistic, and consultants desperate for a fresh horse to ride.

Sometimes the Something booms, although often only after several years. Sometimes it disappears without a whimper. Neither outcome dampens the enthusiasm of HIMSS, consultants, and vendors to push a new, carefully orchestrated Something each year, likely because fewer people would attend conferences, hire consultants, and buy new products otherwise. Maybe they learned that from the car makers.

This is the Year of the RHIO. I’m not against that, but it would be nice if organizations finished implementing yesterday’s fads first, like CPOE and electronic medical records. Those are still a hopeful dream for the vast majority of hospitals. And, we know they can deliver value today.

At least some of the RHIO hype appears to be genuine (unlike the Year of the PDA, which everyone knew was a joke.) It seems that technologies developed by Connecting for Health and IHE will allow RHIOs to interconnect, at least according to groups chewing through government grant money. The enthusiasm is palpable, although those with functional memories will recall that technology problems weren’t what ended the Year of the CHIN in the first place.

Eventually, RHIOs will provide patient benefit (at least 3-5 years from now, I expect.) In the meantime, they could become CPOE redux: encouraging premature interest in immature products by unprepared organizations, consuming resources and organizational energies that could have been spent on more worthwhile projects.

Most hospitals still haven’t implemented bedside barcoding, smart IV pumps, electronic MARs, and clinical decision support, all comparatively inexpensive slam dunks compared to CPOE. But, we convinced ourselves to lead with CPOE through some bizarre logic and we’re still trying to get physicians to use it years later, passing up some great patient safety opportunities along the way.

In any case, RHIOs are about to morph from a science fair project run by grant-fueled big contractors to the mainstream. Uncle Sam is sending just one receiver downfield and it’s RHIOs. Whether you’re ready doesn’t matter. That virtually no doctors have EMRs that can contribute or use clinical data doesn’t matter. That hospital clinical systems still capture only a small percentage of electronic data doesn’t matter. What does matter is that RHIOs are hot and hospital executives will be encouraged to hop on the bandwagon.

I think many RHIOs will go right down the toilet through lack of a sustainable financing model, poor governance, or a general lack of interest in cooperating with barely tolerated competitors. Those that are successful will at least spur demand for better clinical systems in all settings. That’s good: according to several HIMSS speakers this week, we’re turning our backs on those systems just as they are becoming good enough to use.

Let’s celebrate the shockingly fast progress that’s been made on RHIOs. Clearly lots of good work has been done. But, remember that your first obligation is to ensure good outcomes for patients under your facility’s care right now. We need to finish implementing all those now-gauche technologies that didn’t make the HIMSS hot list this year.

Mr. HIStalk’s editorials appear each Thursday morning in the subscribers-only version of Inside Healthcare Computing’s E-News Update.  To subscribe, please go to:  https://insidehealth.com/ihcwebsite/subscribe.html or call 877-690-1871.

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