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Navigating American Health Care: How IT Can Foster Health Care Improvement

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"Here there be monsters,” warned ancient mariners’ maps of the uncharted corners of the seas and the creatures that lurked within. The oceans of paper and mountains of file cabinets required to track patients in the U.S. health care system today is akin in many ways to the murky depths, reams of maps and collections of chronometers and sextants which not long ago guided the global maritime industry. Since ancient times—Homer tells us that Odysseus relied on the Pleiades star cluster and the Herdsman and Bear constellations to steer him from Calypso’s cave towards Ithaca—navigators have depended upon celestial navigation, enhanced by technology and coastal charts, to determine position and plan the movement of their vessels.

Mapping clinical and payment data to health care outcomes could be as revolutionary for the U.S. health care system as GSP and GIS were for the maritime industry. Health IT systems, properly implemented, could transform how health care providers deliver care—resulting in a quality-focused health care system that improves lives, lower costs, and boosts health care productivity.