Does positive health have a multiplier effect? Will better information sharing substantially reduce the cost of treatment? Can a common medical record schema fix the American diet?

These aren’t idle questions. Aneesh Chopra, the federal CTO, announced at the Open Government and Innovations Conference that the US if falling behind in innovation. However the US can still lead in such areas as healthcare IT innovation, he said. Putting aside the fact that the quoted metrics, such as broadband activity and tax credits, don’t describe the progress of “innovation,” you have to wonder about the real benefits of healthcare IT innovation.

On its face, any improvement in healthcare IT or any other facet of healthcare in the United States is beneficial. The question is to what degree.

Kundra’s hope for success from investment in healthcare IT requires a couple of assumptions. That the problems of our health care system can be solved with better IT. That the primary driver of high cost is related to information, not market/institution structures. That improved healthcare IT will have a sufficient effect on individual health.

When you compare an investment in healthcare, IT or otherwise, to an investment in something like energy use, you need to compare the, well, the down stream benefits. Healthcare as we know it gets us back to the zero point of wellness. If you’re sick or injured, medical treatment gets you back to the point where you were before your illness or injury. Preventive medicine keeps you from reaching below the point of wellness. Neither improves your wellness beyond that point. We’re not making Übermensch. Medical treatment doesn’t actually make you better like we say it does, it makes you back-to-healthy. Which is to say, it doesn’t let you do more things or do things better.

The negative multiplier effect of poor health is arguably real and visible in our everyday lives. A sick populace is unproductive and unhappy, even those who are not sick. So investments in healthcare technology, including IT, are more than welcome. But should we usher in healthcare IT innovations as national triumphs of innovation?

If your concern is innovation for innovation’s sake, you should be concerned with the metrics and relationships that actual describe and spur innovation. The output of research science and the ability of industry to capitalize on the discoveries of academia. If your concern is innovation for the good of our economy, you should probably be concerned with innovation in the energy sector first and foremost. But if your concern is the delivery or cost of healthcare, there are institutional problems - market and policy incentives - to address, the outcomes of which far overshadow those of improvements in healthcare IT.