Health IT Adoption Disparities Impede Digital Health Transformation

A new study suggests that a national policy is needed to support widespread health IT adoption and digital health transformation for healthcare planning.

While COVID-19 accelerated the digital health transformation, disparities exist in health IT adoption of tools that help healthcare planning and preparation, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR).

The University of Colorado Denver (UC Denver) Business School researchers conducted a survey of 135 healthcare system CEOs from February to March 2021.

The survey explored health system differences between four types of digital orientations: analytics-oriented digital technologies (AODT), customer-oriented digital technologies (CODT), growth and innovation–oriented digital technologies (GODT), and futuristic and experimental digital technologies (FEDT).     

As COVID-19 overwhelmed the industry, many health systems adopted consumer-facing health IT tools that align with existing EHR systems to support virtual care delivery.

However, despite these advancements, the researchers observed disparities in the adoption of growth or futuristic digital orientations which aim to help prepare for future healthcare disruptions.

“While we are seeing electronic health records become useful in the world of COVID, we’re not seeing these new technologies being used to their fullest extent,” study co-author Jiban Khuntia, PhD, said in a press release. “Health systems cannot shape future decisions and strategies until they start to leverage more comprehensive functions.”   

The researchers found that health systems in the midwest and southern states are more likely to adopt growth or futuristic digital orientations compared to organizations in other regions of the country.

The survey also found that low-revenue and health systems that are not owned by investors are more likely to adopt GODT and FEDT orientations.

On the other hand, small-sized, nonteaching, and less burdened health systems are focusing on current digital technologies such as analytics or customer-oriented technologies (AODT or CODT).

The researchers said this could be due to financial restraints and a lack of technical support or health IT capabilities.

“In the post COVID-19 era, we believe that more and more health systems will see the value of digital transformation,” the study authors wrote. “However, some health systems may fall back in this process due to resource constraints, including tangible resources such as budget and intangible resources such as information technology capabilities.”

The authors suggested that stakeholders develop a national policy strategy with financial incentives to support the widespread adoption of futuristic growth-based health IT orientations.

"The disparities across these orientations suggest that a holistic, consistent, and well-articulated digital orientation direction across the United States remains elusive,” said Khuntia.

“It is time to have a solid blueprint at the national level to guide health systems to leverage the potential of digital transformation; but a lack of consistency would exacerbate different outcomes across different health systems and regions in the United States,” Khuntia continued.

The study authors noted that it is crucial that health systems have policy and technical assistance to back their future-oriented digital transformation efforts not only from an interoperability standpoint, but also from a health equity perspective.

“The differences in utilization of digital technologies around the country was a bit surprising to me,” said study co-author Rulon Stacey, PhD. “This suggests a comprehensive approach to public policy would serve to equalize the level of access to all patients in different parts of the country.” 

For the national digital health transformation to evolve, health IT adoption must be equal and widespread, the researchers emphasized.

“The transformative power of digital technologies can only be leveraged by adopting futuristic digital technologies,” the study authors wrote. “Thus, the disparities across these orientations suggest that a holistic, consistent, and well-articulated direction across the United States remains elusive. We give the clarion call to form a top-level US health systems digital strategy and plan to shape the development blueprints for all health systems and the nation.”

Next Steps

Dig Deeper on Clinical documentation

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing