How Health IT Can Affect Individual Patient Outcomes

As someone passionate about patient engagement and using health IT and other technologies to improve care, I continue hear a great deal about how solutions can actually benefit population health. Even at the most recent HIMSS conference, “patient engagement” as a term clearly has become one of this year’s biggest buzz phrases.

Conference sessions were dedicated to the topic, vendors marketed their services to solving some of the issues associated with it and seemingly everyone in attendance had an opinion for what needs to be done or at least has some strategies for bringing more patients — or their data — directly into the care sphere.

Problem is, from my perspective, that, unfortunately, too much is still being said about population health and not nearly enough about individual health. In theory, I understand why this must be, but in practicality, I don’t understand the seemingly lack of attention individuals are receiving. Obviously, if population health outcomes improve then that must logically mean individual health outcomes are improving.

And while I understand that not everyone or every need can possibly be addressed, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to fill those needs. The current conversations about improved population health remind me of a common business/life solution when addressing a major problem: How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Likewise, it would seem the same approach could be taken to achieve improve population health outcomes: One individual patient at a time.

That said, I asked some folks within the health IT community how technology affects individual patient outcomes. Though some of the ideas here are still high level, perhaps they are a step in the right direction. Here are some of the responses I received:

Ben Quirk
Ben Quirk

Ben Quirk, CEO, Quirk Healthcare Solutions

What are the real-world benefits of electronic health records, for example, to a specific individual? To answer that question, let’s take a look at a fictional person we’ll call “Bill.” Bill is quite elderly and has a variety of age-related illnesses. He lives in Ohio, and decides spend the winter with his daughter in Florida.

Bill’s daughter, Susan, arranges for her father to be seen by a local specialist during his stay. Susan tries to get a voluminous paper file transferred from Ohio to the new doctor in Florida, but there are delays: phone messages are missed, handwriting is misread, and no one has time to copy and mail 100 pages of medical records.

In the end, Susan is unable to get her father’s records transferred in time for the appointment with the new physician. As a result, an unnecessary test is performed, and a drug is prescribed that had caused an allergic reaction in the past.

In the future, EHRs will enable the Florida clinic to have electronic access to the same records available in Ohio. Already, Medicare and some commercial carriers have websites that list physician visits, patient complaints, diagnoses made, lab/diagnostic tests performed, and drugs prescribed. Eventually, such websites may include a full medical profile, including doctor’s notes, lab results, x-ray images and more.

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Are EHRs Dead?: Jim Gerrity, Ciena Responds

Jim Gerrity

Are EHRs dead? Well, Healthcare IT News’ Eric Wicklund recently reported that EHR vendors “will have to find a way to modify their products to focus on data that the patient and his or her care team want, or they’ll become obsolete.” Will EHRs become so obsolete so soon after the height of their heyday? When further explained, some of the reasoning makes sense.

According to panelists at the Partners HealthCare’s 10th Annual Connected Health Symposium, we’re in the time of “para-EHR,” defined as all of the phone calls, texts, e-mails and other doctor-doctor and doctor-patient communications that are not entered into the EHR. They could include everything from Skype chats between doctors to Post-It notes to data residing on mobile devices and sensors.

As such, complete records are not being entered into the EHR, and most patient communication takes place outside the EHR setting. But, are EHR’s dead and flat line or do they have some life left in them? I posted the question to Jim Gerrity, director at Ciena.

Are EHRs dead? “The short answer is ‘no,’ however, what is contained in today’s EHR will most likely evolve.  Let me expand on this a bit: Paper-based records are still the most widely used method in the healthcare industry, but that’s changing rapidly. EHRs are proving to significantly improve clinical efficiency and coordination and being adopted increasingly by healthcare institutions around the world. A relatively recent example in the U.S. was their great usefulness to provide continued care during and immediately after Superstorm Sandy … e-records backed up and accessible at disaster recovery sites. As one writer put it, EHRs are ‘ushering in a new era in how medical data is stored and shared.’ But is this transition to EHRs required?

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