Healthcare’s Next Revolution Is Social, Not Digital

Guest post by Edgar T. Wilson, writer, consultant and analyst.

Edgar T. Wilson
Edgar T. Wilson

It seems increasingly disingenuous to frame health IT as being “revolutionary.”

For one, digitization has already swept nearly every other industry. The iPhone was a revolution in communication, but after generations of iterations and imitations, smartphones are normal, and consumers have adjusted their expectations accordingly.

To bring electronic health records (EHRs) into American hospitals and clinics is less a revolution, and more a remediation. That arguments continue over whether this upgrade will prove practical, valuable, or beneficial to patient care and clinical outcomes at all reflects that this evolution has been a top-down endeavor, rather than a true bottom-up transformation.

Despite rhetoric–and plenty of earnest optimism–the EHR rollout has been incremental, administratively-guided, federally-mandated push toward adoption. It has been a crawl toward process improvement more in the mode of Six Sigma than a grassroots “reset” button on the fundamentals of healthcare.

The true revolution–the one that patients and caregivers alike desperately need–is not merely technological, although technology may be our next best hope for realizing it.

A Mental Problem

Healthcare needs to unify behavioral and physical health, treatment, and discourse.

While physical medicine is climbing the next hill with respect to primary care provider (PCP) shortages, interoperability quagmires, and meaningful use (MU), behavioral health is facing the same primary challenges it has since well before health IT became such a hot topic.

Namely, recognition as a legitimate and necessary component of whole-person wellness and medical treatment.

But on both the side of care providers, and patients, physical health has been rigidly siloed away from behavioral health. Even EHRs have been shoehorned through America’s hospitals while behavioral health clinics have been barred from accessing incentive money. Their exclusion from the development table means fewer solutions and platforms exist at all for those facilities and caregivers who want to embrace digitization, because developers have been preoccupied with MU compliance.

The problem is sociological as much as it is a practical matter of care delivery. Stigmas persist–even as the conversation about CTE in the NFL escalates, the knee-jerk reaction is to provide players with better helmets, rather than emphasize how physical injury manifests in behavioral ways.

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