An Encore Eye On the Future of Health IT

When looking forward, it sometimes helps to look back; sometimes.

Though the past is not always an indicator of things to come, sometimes we’re able to find a little guidance in the hindsight.

Much is being written by folks like myself in response to HIMSS asking the question of where Health IT is going to be a year from now, on the anniversary of second annual National Health IT Week.

Unlike several of my counterparts — perhaps I’ll be considered less of a forward thinker because of it — but instead of fast forwarding one year, I’d like to go back one year to formulate a response.

In May 2011, I had the pleasure of helping draft a column for my then boss for Imaging Economics magazine. The piece, one of my favorites, seemed to strike a chord, even if just with my office colleagues.

Nevertheless, this piece essentially answers the very question asked by HIMSS, a year before the asking.

And so, as we wrote back then, I’ll begin here again, with an encore of the piece as a response.

“Here’s how I see it: Healthcare is a world of major transition. Like life, there is some unpredictability, and most likely, there always will be.”

We continue: “Yet, during this time – call it one of change, progress, upheaval — we must continue focusing on creating a more mobile and connected place in which physicians and their patients share tools. We need to encourage a greater, more vested conversation, where health information exchanges and practice and patient portals are used, secure messaging and 24-hour access to records and patient data for the patient and their physician.”

This observation, according to my best estimate, couldn’t be any timelier.

We continue again:

“I see a healthcare environment that mirrors the rest of the world. Where, as a patient, I can see my labs at 3 a.m., can query my doctor and request refills; if I’m up for it, pay bills anywhere there’s a connection. I see this as accepted and practiced, in the practice of medicine. Always. Any time. Now.”

Perhaps we’re there now; perhaps not. Regardless, we’re talking about it and, given another year, I might be able to more profoundly announce, “Always. Any time. Now!”

If I remember correctly, in helping write this next section I spoke for myself: “But, here’s what I know: Patients are demanding greater ownership of their care and records (I was). They (I) want the always, any time, now. I also know that physicians – along with constant pressure of requirements and reform – need solutions they can trust; technology tools that are intuitive that help them provide the highest quality of care, all while meeting their patients’ needs.”

It seems nothing has changed in more than a year. I suspect little will change in another. Reform continues as we move past Stage 1 and into Stage 2, which are more rigorous than their predecessors. It will consume hours of healthcare professionals’ time. They will toil and try, and try and toil.

Despite the continuing and conflicting headlines, patients do want to get more involved in their care, but they need a reason to buy in; and physicians need tools that are going to improve their lives. They need more efficiency, more powerful and intuitive solutions. They need to start responding to survey that asks “What is the best system to use?” rather than “What is the least complex system to try to operate?”

Let me jump ahead now. “Physicians realize their sway within the healthcare market, both as practitioners and consumers, and they realize – like their patients — how technological connections enhance their experiences in other areas of their lives (read: paying bills online, online banking, booking appointments with the DMV through a website, purchasing movie tickets through a phone, etc.). This understanding of using technology as a tool is helping them improve and streamline their practices and, ultimately (for the better), engage their patients in care. “

Finally, here we get to the heart of the matter: “Technology by itself won’t improve patient care. Physicians know this – we all know this – and physicians play the key role in providing higher quality of patient care, but using technology as a tool to improve care improves outcomes, according to the physicians and patients I speak with. And, to me, that means improved outcomes equates to improved quality of care.”

“So, it makes sense that the practice of medicine is changing with technology, which calls for an adjustment of its perceptions in the space.”

And, to the tune of Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story:

“Because, as more attention flows into the market – with reform and regulation – it’s time to decide where the future of healthcare is going to be. Connection and interoperable features that drive ownership of patient care may be rooted in the patient-centered medical home and accountable-care organizations, but for that, more needs to be done. We have to be able to share data – again, that’s where connectivity comes in — and we’ll have to be able to move records quickly and efficiently, all while trying to remove the shackles from providers attempting to do what they sought the schooling and expertise for: To practice medicine.”

“All of this begins with the electronic record – other tools are essential, too, including patient portals; physician referring portals with the ability for images and notes to be accessed from anywhere there’s a connection; labs; refills and appointments through one interface, a seamless integration between practitioner and patient – is where I think we need to be, so we can move forward with the rest of the marketplace (meaning: banks, media and communication segments). With the value perceived in being able to share and communicate endlessly and with ease socially, we have to reach these heights in the practice of medicine.”

“Technology helps make lives better. Though, as noted above, technology doesn’t make doctors (or people of all kinds, for that matter) better, it just makes it easier for them to do their jobs (and live their lives). It won’t happen overnight, but I can see even better healthcare attained.”

And so, the encore performance may actually be a sign of things to come.

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