Benchmarking Progress in Health IT

Feb 17, 2010, 4:08 AM, Posted by

Being at TED last week led to some interesting conversations about data, health and the progress of health IT.  One conversation in particular stuck with me – a computer industry executive pointed out that the pace of innovation in the computer industry is orders of magnitude faster than in the health IT industry.  Orders of magnitude.  As in 10, 100, 1000 times faster.  A bold claim.  But then think about some of the advancements shown at TED:

- Microsoft’s integration of Photosynth and Sea Dragon technologies to create a Virtual Earth experience where you can now do a street level fly through of a city neighborhood and see the facades of the buildings around you.  And where there are web cams, seamlessly integrate live video into the view.

- A voyage through the Digital Universe, which is about what it sounds like – extending the Virtual Earth/Google Earth experience to all known objects in the universe.

- Google’s demo of an image recognition feature where the presenter took a photo of a postcard of a hotel with the Nexus One and Google (the omniscient Google – not the company) returned the name and address of the hotel.  And speech-to-speech translation through the Nexus One as well.

- John Underkoffler’s prototype interface in which people can gesture toward a screen to “pick up” a document, then walk across the room and drop the document onto the screen of a different computer.


When you step back and think about it, it’s truly extraordinary.  The gap between sci-fi and ship dates is closing rapidly.  Magic abounds.

So where are we with health IT?  Progress to be sure.  Pockets of excellence.  But as best as I can tell, we’re still struggling with threshold challenges around data exchange, interface design, workflow and deployment at scale.  I’m still processing all this and I’m probably missing something, so I’d really like to hear from people on this question – is the pace of innovation in health IT really that much slower than in the computer and software industries?  If so, then the implications for how we think about the integration of IT into health care are really serious.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.