When you talk health reform, don’t forget quality and IT, in that order

In my previous post, I was perhaps a bit too critical of Maggie Mahar in her hosting of last week’s Health Wonk Review. I noted that there was not a word about health IT in that rundown, but that’s not her fault. A host can only include what’s submitted, and apparently nobody, myself included, who contributed to HWR bothered to submit a blog post about health IT this time around.

But I continue to be troubled by this fixation so many journalists, pundits, commentators, politicians and average citizens have on health insurance coverage, not actual care. I blame most of the former for the confusion among the populace. People within healthcare know that you can’t talk about reform without including the serious problems of quality and patient safety, and people within reform know that IT must be part of the discussion even if they don’t always say so.

I would like to draw your attention to a story of mine that appeared on InformationWeek Healthcare this morning, about a report on care integration from the esteemed Lucian Leape Institute. The report itself did not say a lot about IT, but the luminaries on the committee that produced the paper are aware of the importance.

I was lucky enough to interview retired Kaiser Permanente CEO David M. Lawrence, M.D., who told me there has been “little attention” paid to the importance of a solid IT infrastructure in improving care coordination and integration. “What you now have is too much data for the typical doctor to sift through,” Lawrence told me.

That’s exactly the message Lawrence L. Weed, M.D., has been trying to spread for half a century, as I’ve mentioned before. And that’s pretty much how longtime patient safety advocate Donald M. Berwick, M.D. — also a member of the Lucian Leape Institute committee that wrote the report — feels. Berwick hasn’t always advocated in favor of health IT in his writings and speeches, but he has told me in interviews that the recommended interventions in his 100,000 Lives Campaign and 5 Million Lives Campaign are more or less unsustainable in a paper world.

Isn’t about time more people understand that widespread health reform is impossible without attention to quality and that widespread quality and process improvements are impossible without properly implemented IT?