Of course, none of the anticipated results are guaranteed. With medical costs in the U.S. spiraling higher each year, healthcare's Holy Grail has been computerization. Experts from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, to former head of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, and many medical economists, argue that electronic patient records will save lives and increase efficiency in clinical settings.
But no one has tested this premise yet among millions of patients. For that reason, HealthConnect is being watched closely by the healthcare community to see if it validates the experts' predictions.
Moreover, Kaiser's record in its past computerization efforts has been anything but stellar. But analysts are impressed by how HealthConnect differs from the prior systems that Kaiser, and many other healthcare organizations, have tried to develop.
The key distinction is that all of the functions in HealthConnect revolve around the patient record, says Wanda Jones, president of New Century Healthcare Institute, a San Francisco-based think tank. Previously, she adds, most large medical systems were built around a model that required each application to reside in a separate node on the network, such as lab or radiology, with some shared and some independent data.
Those systems didn't work, because "unless a doctor looked in each of the net-work's baskets, he wouldn't see all the alarms and reminders involving the patient," Jones explains. "Kaiser potentially has a big advantage with this system.
The main challenge to make this work is whether peopleespecially more established doctors who are not used to technologywill use it. Everyone has to be forced to. This is a big hurdle."
Kaiser executives believe that Halvorson and Dodd have already leaped a bigger obstacle: tamping down the culture war at Kaiser sufficiently so that the company could actually get on with the tactical planning needed to fulfill the organization's strategic vision. Even if HealthConnect fails, which by all accounts is unlikely, this is a healthy sign for Kaiser.