If your hospital is typical, its leaders have heard the terms "proteomics" and "nanotechnology," but are still spending more time worrying about Medicare reimbursement rates than about how the organization will cope with the accelerating pace of change in medical and information technology. But considering that high-tech firms are rapidly developing devices and procedures that will radically change the way health care is delivered, and that newly empowered consumers will be demanding those innovations, hospitals that aren't planning now for changes on the five-, 10- and 15-year horizon are destined to become dinosaurs.
"This technology is going to happen whether they [hospitals] plan for it or not," predicts John Haughom, M.D., senior vice president for health care improvement at PeaceHealth, based in Washington state. "Five years from now, hospitals won't survive without being able to manage through these decisions."
Bottom line, it's a long-term, strategic issue that falls right into the laps of hospital trustees charged with the future viability of their organizations.
"I think this is one area where hospitals could do a much better job educating their trustees," says health care futurist Jeff Goldsmith. "It's a topic that management has discomfort with. And there's a kind of entropy that drags people back into day-- to-day operating details."
Instead, say those with a clear view into the technology crystal ball, trustees need to become knowledgeable about medical and information technology and push administrators to develop a coherent long-term plan.
"Many organizations are just coming to grips with the fact that they have to have a more organized approach to technology planning," says Molly Joel Coye, M.D., executive director of the Health Technology Center in San Francisco.
Traditionally, new technology enters a hospital in a scattershot way-a physician with clout buys into a vendor's pitch and demands that the hospital purchase the latest doohickey. Many hospitals consider long-term technology planning to be equivalent to asking someone on staff to log on to the Internet for a few hours. But that kind of approach won't fly in the brave new world of high-tech medicine.
Instead, those familiar with the dizzying prospect of such innovations as robotic surgery and genetic testing coming on line in the next five years, urge hospital trustees to get involved with this issue before it's too late.