Attempts to predict the future are typically off the mark. Beyond the challenges of forecasting the stock market or the weather, dramatic instances of notoriously inaccurate prognostications have been those by the US patent office in the late 1800s about the future of inventions, by Thomas Watson in the 1930s about the market for large computers, and by Bill Gates in the early 1990s about the significance of the Internet. When one seeks to make predictions about health care, one finds that, beyond the usual uncertainties regarding the future, additional impediments to forecasting are the discontinuities introduced by advances in biomedical science and technology, the impact of information technology, and the reorganizations and realignments attending various approaches to health care delivery and finance. Changes in all three contributing areas themselves can be measured in “PSPYs”, or paradigm shifts per year.
Despite these risks in forecasting, I believe that certain trends are sufficiently clear that I am willing to venture a few predictions. Further, the predictions I wish to make suggest a goal for the future that can be achieved, if we can align the prevailing political, financial, biomedical, and technical forces toward that end. Thus, in a sense this is a call to action, to shape the future rather than just let it happen. This chapter seeks to lay out the direction we are heading in knowledge management and decision support, and to delineate an information technology framework that appears desirable. I believe the framework to be discussed is of importance to the health care-related knowledge management and decision making activities of the consumer and patient, the health care provider, and health care delivery organizations and insurers. The approach is also relevant to the other dimensions of academic health care institution activities, notably the conduct of research and the processes of education and learning.