Why closed HIT systems are going the way of the dinosaur (and how to avoid extinction)

When I became the chief executive of West Health after 34 years at Johnson & Johnson, I asked my new colleagues why any company would give up the competitive advantage of a proprietary system. Having served as J&J’s worldwide chairman of Medical Devices & Diagnostics, I couldn’t imagine why any company would do so. I’ve […]

When I became the chief executive of West Health after 34 years at Johnson & Johnson, I asked my new colleagues why any company would give up the competitive advantage of a proprietary system. Having served as J&J’s worldwide chairman of Medical Devices & Diagnostics, I couldn’t imagine why any company would do so. I’ve since been convinced that the benefits of an open system far outweigh any competitive advantage of a closed one. I truly believe that an interoperable healthcare system will result in enhanced patient safety and improved clinical outcomes at a lower cost.

Healthcare workers spend, on average, a third of their time transcribing data from medical devices because most machines don’t share data. This means a doctor or nurse has to scribble down vital stats from each machine to determine the best course of action – the proper dosage of medication, the right test to order. And at the end of an 18-hour shift, they must enter that data into an electronic health record (EHR) by hand.

This is not the best way to practice medicine. It’s also unnecessarily expensive. Our interoperability analysis estimates this lack of communication costs our nation more than $30 billion a year.

So why don’t systems and devices communicate with each other? It’s not a question of innovation. In fact, there is no technological reason that our medical devices and systems cannot communicate with each other. The largest obstacle to an interoperable healthcare system is an outdated notion that proprietary systems provide a competitive advantage.

Any advantages of a proprietary system will quickly dwindle as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to drive alignment of incentives. Hospitals will increasingly value devices and systems that work together – those that will make it stronger and improve its outcomes.

So what does this mean for the medical device industry?

As a former medical devices company executive, I certainly appreciate the challenges in meeting Wall Street’s expectations while planning and repositioning business models and strategies to meet future demands. But, as our healthcare system increasingly focuses on value over volume, medical device companies will need to adapt to the changing landscape and make their systems interoperable.

To prosper, they will have to start thinking holistically about ways to improve patient outcomes, reduce hospital admissions and add value to the existing ecosystem.

Although such a shift is difficult, particularly for large companies, we’re already seeing it happen. Medtronic recently announced that its hospital services division saved a hospital $6 million in a single year by improving patient care and system efficiency by integrating data, medical technology and services.

This is a brand-agnostic partnership that Medtronic sees as critical to transforming the current unsustainable healthcare delivery system. It is an example of leadership and thinking differently – collaborating to transform the healthcare system.

Transformation requires collaboration

This week, hundreds of organizations are coming together across the nation to celebrate the important role health information technology plays in improving healthcare delivery.

Working together, we can build an automated, connected and coordinated healthcare system – one that seamlessly and securely shares data – from a patient’s pulse all the way to a personal EHR that can be accessed in real-time.

Let’s dare to imagine what life would be like if our healthcare system provided the same integrated 24-hour service as the banking, retail and cellular industries. Let’s use the same technology that tracks our digital footprint to improve health.

I used to ask my employees, “If we gave our customers our strategic plan, would they see us as part of the solution or part of the problem?” Our changing healthcare system requires medical device leaders to consider some of the toughest questions of their careers: Is my company ready for this? Can we demonstrate the value of our product or technology in an integrated delivery system? And, finally, are we part of the solution, or will we be left behind?

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