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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

The quality case for information technology in healthcare

David W Bates

Author Affiliations

Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA

Center for Applied Medical Information Systems, Partners Healthcare System

Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2002, 2:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-2-7

Published: 23 October 2002



As described in the Institute of Medicine's Crossing the Quality Chasm report, the quality of health care in the U.S. today leaves much to be desired.


One major opportunity for improving quality relates to increasing the use of information technology, or IT. Health care organizations currently invest less in IT than in any other information-intensive industry, and not surprisingly current systems are relatively primitive, compared with industries such as banking or aviation. Nonetheless, a number of organizations have demonstrated that quality can be substantially improved in a variety of ways if IT use is increased in ways that improve care. Specifically, computerization of processes that are error-prone and computerized decision support may substantially improve both efficiency and quality, as well as dramatically facilitate quality measurement. This report discusses the current levels of IT and quality in health care, how quality improvement and management are currently done, the evidence that more IT might be helpful, a vision of the future, and the barriers to getting there.


This report suggests that there are five key policy domains that need to be addressed: standards, incentives, security and confidentiality, professional involvement, and research, with financial incentives representing the single most important lever.