Magazine

The Advances And Limitations Of Digitized Medical Care


"The digital hospital" (Cover Story, Mar. 28) accurately captures one of the most significant trends sweeping the hospital industry. But there is more: The digital revolution is contributing to a thorough rethinking of the very design of the hospital. One example: Digitization shrinks the storage space needed for medical records and film. Digitized equipment for, say, mammography, can handle a greater number of patients with fewer pieces of gear in less space. Functions at large, centralized nursing stations can be distributed, putting nurses, medicine, and records closer to patients, reducing wear and tear on nursing staff and minimizing the risk of patient error. All told, digitization can spur a new-model hospital: more efficient, more technologically advanced, and more responsive to the needs of patients, families, nurses, and doctors.

Deborah Sheehan

National Director of Healthcare

OWP/P Architects Inc.

Chicago

As a practicing family physician who works in a public hospital where over 90% of the prescriptions are written electronically, I was intrigued by the implications of your cover story. Interestingly, the most cost-effective "innovation" -- multidisciplinary rounds -- while improved by info tech, is basically an old technique that relies on personal communication among the staff who know the patient most intimately.

Similarly, a study last year showed a 25% cost reduction from teaching family members of stroke victims how to care for their loved ones. While Information Age technological advances can help, quality health care requires personal attention to the unique human characteristics of each patient and family.

Kenneth B. Frisof, M.D.

MetroHealth Medical Center

Cleveland

The center on patient safety at Florida State University College of Medicine recently completed a study for the state legislature on the return on investment associated with information technologies used in Florida hospitals. The study combines data collected on information-technology utilization in Florida's acute-care hospitals with financial reports submitted to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Improved financial outcomes are present when examining information technology collectively and for individual measures of clinical, administrative, and strategic information technology.

As the nation's newest medical school, the FSU College of Medicine has made a large investment in teaching medical information technology to physicians in the community and to its students. We would urge medical facilities to do the same. It is an investment that will save lives and reduce costs in the long run.

Nir Menachemi, M.D.

Florida State University College of Medicine

Tallahassee, Fla.

Re "The immelt revolution" (Management, Mar. 28): My father has worked at General Electric Co. (GE) his entire professional life and is a good example of how CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt's idea of specialization is sound. My father took a permanent manager position at GE Fanuc Automation in Detroit -- where he has found great success -- to stop us from having to move every two years, as was the sign of success in Jack Welch's GE.

I offer an idea to Mr. Immelt on how to easily tap into the creative power of some of his greatest specialists: Adopt an "internal consultant" program where a successful leader from one business is encouraged to look into the operations of another business for a short period in order to offer some outside ideas. Perhaps start an idea contest in which all employees can participate. Some of t he most creative people inside GE may be working as custodians or call-center operators. Keep the doors open to anyone who has an idea for improvement.

Carl A. Patrick

Cincinnati

Kudos to CEO Immelt and his innovation revolution at GE: Back to the future. Instead of the quarterly dividend, once again it's "Progress is our most important product." If he would like new fields to conquer, let me suggest an efficiency revolution in electric motors, large and small; development of superconductivity for commercial use; advanced concept batteries and motors for hybrid vehicles; materials research leading to higher-efficiency solar cells and mirror systems; maglev train development (China has one in operation); safe, efficient breeder reactor power plants -- with better solutions for nuclear waste; cost reduction in high-tech medical-diagnostic equipment; and efficient, economical fossil fuel power-plant exhaust scrubber systems for China, developing countries -- and the U.S.

Why not find out what industries could benefit from robotics solutions and then develop them? And how about sponsoring summer internships for bright U.S. high school science students?

GE could be responsible for strengthening our high-tech industrial base, for creating thousands of new jobs, for a stronger economy and improved environment. Not bad for one corporation.

Lee Gaillard

Philadelphia

While initiatives such as Intel Corp.'s (INTC) are important ("Meet the best and brightest," Science & Technology, Mar. 28), it's clear that government and industry should do more to promote science as a career, since failure to do so could have drastic consequences for economies in the decades to come. Links between industry and education ought to start much earlier in students' careers. Just as it is important in a child's development to be exposed to different cultures and languages, so should exposure to the basic principles of science -- Newton's laws of motion, for instance -- be a compulsory part of children's education.

With this kind of early exposure to science we might see less of a fear of science in teenagers, with fewer young people expressing the view that science is "boring" or "too difficult." Not only does a career in science-based industries offer young people wider opportunities in other parts of the world than careers in banking, insurance, and law, it also instills in them a spirit of rigor and scrutiny that will ensure that they become innovators of the future.

Thomas White

President

Operations Support Systems Group

Agilent Technologies Inc.

Wokingham, England

Re "Why logic often takes a backseat" (Economic Analysis, Mar. 28): While most economists are busy fighting each other over rationality, a third group seeks reconciliation using insights from an unlikely source: biology. These biological economists are led by Nobel prize winner Professor Vernon L. Smith of George Mason University, and they have generally operated below the radar screen. This innovative work seeks a biological source for our irrationality. The answer, current research suggests, is that the back of the human brain is built to solve the problems of our distant ancestors, who lived in a world without bank accounts, credit cards, or Social Security.

Terry Burnham

Cambridge, Mass.

Editor's note: The writer is the author of Mean Markets and Lizard Brains: How to Profit from the New Science of Irrationality.

Neuroeconomics is indeed on the right track. However, it is my opinion that, like the logical side of the brain, which is more obviously mathematical, the emotional side is also mathematical. In simplistic terms, the logical side deals with the finite, while the emotional side deals with the infinite. Since both the finite and infinite are mathematical, their interplay is mathematical also. Hence, any decision that doesn't include consideration of the emotional side of an issue (be it economic or otherwise) is not even "logically" sound.

Joseph Oppenheim

San Diego

Both neuroeconomics and behavioral economics seem to face a common problem: The smart money, such as Warren E. Buffett, may not think or behave like typical market participants.

Charlie Stromeyer Jr.

Concord, Mass.

After describing the mess that General Motors Corp. (GM) is in ("Running out of gas," News: Analysis & Commentary, Mar. 28), BusinessWeek asks: "What must GM do to turn itself around?" First, spin off the profitable GMAC financing division and distribute the proceeds entirely to the stockholders. Then run GM strictly as an automotive business. Yes, this will lead to bankruptcy in short order. But the restructuring will give GM the opportunity to learn how to design and manufacture cars again, and it will also enable management to obtain sane labor contracts.

Peter Skurkiss

Stow, Ohio


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