To Advance Healthcare, We Need True Health IT Transformation

By Paul Brient, chief executive officer, PatientKeeper, Inc.; a HIMSS Emerald Corporate Member and National Health IT Week Partner

During National Health IT Week, champions from across the industry are uniting to share their voices on how health IT is catalyzing change in U.S. healthcare. The following post from a National Health IT Week Partner is one of the many perspectives of how information and technology is transforming health in America.

Paul Brient

The past decade has seen a massive push toward healthcare digitization. The electronic health record (EHR) is now an entrenched piece of infrastructure at virtually every U.S. hospital, thanks in no small part to the federal government’s investment.

To be sure, health IT is making positive contributions to healthcare access and quality, and National Health IT Week is an appropriate forum to celebrate that progress. For instance, not long ago consulting physicians had to spend the night in the hospital just in case their expertise was needed. Then came pagers and consultants were able to come to the hospital only as and when needed. Fast forward to now, and today’s technology allows providers to completely review up-to-the-second information about a patient and properly triage that patient directly from the provider’s mobile device.

In some specialties, technology is leading to care delivery transformation. As the treatments for stroke have become more sophisticated and effective, for example, it is now critical to have neurologists available immediately 24/7. For many hospitals, this isn’t practical or even possible. With a digital record, neurologists can work remotely and cover many hospitals, enabling more facilities to deliver high-quality stroke care.

Yet, many challenges remain for health IT – just ask any physician about their experience using their hospital’s EHR.

The Promises and Shortfalls of Healthcare Digitization

So why aren’t we doing better at fulfilling the promise of healthcare digitization and realizing a return on our investment? There are several parts to that answer. One relates to the government’s involvement. Since the advent of meaningful use, everyone has focused on meeting government-imposed requirements. For many, of necessity, this was about meeting the letter of the law, not the spirit. This essentially killed innovation as research and development budgets and deployments focused on meeting the specific requirements of meaningful use rather than innovating to improve the cost/quality of healthcare.

We have to realize that using computers in medicine is necessary but not sufficient to achieve transformation. We cannot expect to see major benefits from computerization if we simply use computers to do the same things we would have done without them. In order to realize the full potential of healthcare digitization, the industry must begin to rethink how it operates, given that records now are digitized.

The current generation of EHRs fell victim to the “automate what is there” problem. Almost all EHRs present the same information, the same way, regardless of the specialty of the user, the patient situation, or the care setting. This is because these EHRs are modeled after the paper chart. It is impossible to make a paper chart dynamically adapt and present the most pertinent information given the situation, but it is very possible to have computers do this.

Creating a Foundation for the Digital Healthcare Transformation

Ultimately, the computer will become as integral and indispensable to patient care as the stethoscope. Physicians don’t think twice about using a stethoscope; indeed, they couldn’t imagine not using one. Within 10 years, it will be the same for computers.

But there is a long way to go. After all, the foundation of digitized healthcare – the EHR system – still has not been perfected. Many hospital executives continue to refine the EHR basics: improving interoperability, workflow and usability through “EHR accelerator” technologies and solutions. This is important work, because without it whatever is built on the foundation will not stand.

Providers should not let their frustrations with the current state of EHRs sour them on the potential of this transformation. Healthcare digitization holds immense promise. But where we are today represents merely table stakes – with this technology in place, with the right encouragement and the government stepping back from its role of trying to legislate innovation, we can use these technological underpinnings to further improve care quality and efficiency across the entire healthcare continuum. Then, and only then, will we start to see the full value of healthcare’s digital transformation.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

National Health IT Week | October 8-12

Healthcare Transformation | Access to Care | Economic Opportunity | Healthy Communities

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