Articles, PSQH November 5, 2013

Our Tower of Babel

by Barry P Chaiken, MD

The Bible describes why humans speak so many languages:

The narrative of the city of Babel is recorded in Genesis 11:1-9. Everyone on earth spoke the same language. As people migrated from the East, they settled in the land of Shinar. People there sought to make bricks and build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves, so that they not be scattered over the world. God came down to look at the city and tower, and remarked that as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach. God went down and confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each other, and scattered them over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. Thus the city was called Babel.

Although this explains well why communication is so difficult among people from different countries, it fails to address the inability of our various healthcare information technology (HIT) systems to exchange patient data seamlessly.

Although God confounded our speech to prevent us from turning away from His teachings, there is no equally important reason that HIT systems today do not communicate.

During a presentation to healthcare CIOs at the recent CHIME13 Forum in Scottsdale, Arizona (Chaiken & Vengco, 2013), attendees expressed their belief that the lack of interoperability among HIT systems represents a substantial barrier to utilizing innovative information technology tools, such as social networking applications, to manage the delivery of patient care. Only after what they described as a miracle event – true interoperability – did attendees believe that these new technologies could be used effectively to impact the quality and cost of patient care.

It is time to focus on the value delivered to the patient and our community derived from universal, easily managed HIT interoperability. Such a capability promises to deliver improved patient care; fewer redundant, unnecessary tests; and more accurate diagnoses and treatments.

Excerpts from: Our Tower of Babble. PSQH, November/December 2013

 

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