Dr. Eugene Heslin has always loved technology. In his 20 years in practice, he’s embraced it. From the start, in 1992, he brought in a practice management system when he opened his practice’s doors.
Since then, the practice has grown to a five-physician group of family practitioners serving more than 14,000 patients is Saugerties, New York — about 100 miles north of New York City — and has added an electronic health record system to the mix.
The “home-grown” practice serves patients ranging from younger than one month to older than 107; from near life to near death, and everything in between. Physicians at the practice, Bridge Street Family Practice, see the whole gambit and provide care to a lot of people using technology to do so, Dr. Heslin said recently.
Heslin is a self-proclaimed technology advocate. As far as he’s concerned, it provides clear benefits at the practice level, and, ultimately, improves patient care.
“Technology is exponentially changing the practice of care, and I consider it a tool much the same as my stethoscope or my reflex hammer,” he said. “I’ve pretty much given up my desk for my laptop.”
He spoke to me as he sat on a train headed to the City where was able to access his EHR remotely and send a few messages to the practice and patients. He also reviewed a few records and handled some administrative work all from his laptop.
“The access to information is much improved. I’m practicing smarter because I am able to access information in my time instead of sitting with a pile of paper charts,” he said.
His is a story similar to others. When he implemented the EHR he got rid of the paper, found time for other more important things than paperwork and now provides care from anywhere. Because he’s connected, he can interact directly with his patients through his EHR’s patient portal, which patients seem to like.
But the real power of his EHR is in its ability to help track and manage the patient population’s health and outcomes. Though there is much that can be done in an electronic system that can also be done using a paper record, this is just not one of those things, he said.
He’s now in control of all the patient data in his practice and it’s truly helping improve patient’s lives, especially those with chronic conditions.
“The true power of EHRs for the majority of physicians is that we’re going to need this data, and the only way to gather the data is to do so electronically,” he said.
A lover of technology, Heslin is not brand loyal and he’s not married to any system. He’s on his second EHR and he’s seen or tested several of the market’s top names. Each does some things very well, but not everything.
But as the market continues to change and with adoption recently reaching 70 percent of all physicians, Heslin said that the systems are going to be standard equipment for any practice in the near future.
Certainly that comes as no surprise, he admits. What’s next, he said, is interoperability of the each of the different vendor’s systems so that information can easily flow from one to another. Ultimately, the data contained in each must be controlled by the physician rather than by the vendor.
Care givers need to be able to move data within the health sphere, with each system offering point-to-point communication abilities that are far more advanced than today’s version of glorified email.
As the landscape continues to embrace electronic records, the data extracted will become more robust and provide for better modeling of care. Perhaps one day, the technology will begin to allow for a bit of predictive analysis, he said, at which point care can become about prevention of disease rather than about fighting existing conditions.
Essentially, if people can be kept out of the hospital or from exhaustive care programs, resources can be reallocated and eventually saved.
Heslin’s are not predictions of a country doctor hoping for the best through the use of technology. In the health IT community he has some clout. A board member (he’s actually treasurer) of the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), he’s part of one of the most proactive groups in the United States working to improve care.
NYeC works to educate the healthcare industry and those in need of treatment, with a goal of elevating the level of general understanding as to how health IT can improve care. He’s part of the public/private partnership that’s working to move healthcare forward with health IT. Everyone, like himself, has an opportunity to participate, he said, which strengthens the movement.
New York is a complex place, though. There’s a great deal of diversity in the care and cultural spectrum. However, if a successful program to move health policy forward can be built here, it can be built anywhere, he said.
And if the policies lead to better care outcomes, more engagement from the community and its professionals, then real change can be accomplished, and all of the efforts made over the course of the last several years will be worth it, he said.