A Healthy Dose of IT Optimism

headshot-jdreyerA new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association states leaders in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are calling for a “next generation” of electronic health records (EHRs) that focuses on enhanced usability. An array of specific design changes were noted, including but not limited to the following:

  • Better integration of information and space on the EHR’s interface
  • Changes to support clinical workflow
  • ‘Actionable’ cognitive support
  • Better integration of structured data capture with a narrative style of documentation

While I’d be hard-pressed to find a clinician that would push back on these needed EHR updates, I’d also be hard-pressed to find an EHR vendor that would disagree that there undoubtedly are areas for improvement. It’s easy to throw EHR vendors under the bus and point fingers as far as clinician adoption hurdles are concerned in light of this digital transformation. The key word there is transformation.

For anyone in the health care industry or those aware of some its more costly and complex flaws, you know how broken the health care system of today truly is. As such, you can’t expect EHRs to act as an all-encompassing “duct tape” of sorts for health care’s information gathering and sharing obstacles. Now, more than ever, we must come together as a community of providers, payers, vendors, developers, entrepreneurs and informed patients to collaborate and create solutions that address the array of pain points the VA called out. As one of my professors always said, “You either contribute to the solution or contribute to the problem.”

As folks begin to feel growing frustration associated with progress related to EHR usability, it’s worth taking a look at the article from Software Advice on the history of EHRs and remembering that the HITECH Act only passed in 2009. Yes, I said only. In other words, we are just starting to make concrete strides regarding the meaningful use of EHRs and those strides include finding faster, more intelligent ways to use EHRs to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.

Moreover, as we move from a system built on pay for reporting to one focused on pay for performance, everything will yet again be turned on its head in due time. Embrace this; embrace the complexity of the problem at hand and look for ways to take innovative approaches to tackling change. And remember, in the words of Dr. Farzad Mostashari, “It’s just so overly simplistic to say, oh, why can’t health care be like banking?”  It just can’t.  While some banking principles and lessons learned can cross over into the health care realm, not all apply.  And for good reason, there’s a higher “price” put on people lives vs. their bank accounts.

Next month, I head to Health:Refactored in Mountain View to present. This show is a breeding ground for innovation as it brings the best in coding, design and technology together with one overarching theme in mind:  “With the industry rapidly evolving, the potential to improve lives through health technology is limitless.” Instead of looking for ways to simplify health care, I’m going to be on the prowl for ways to humanize it through the application of intelligent design and user-friendly, conversational interfaces. More so, I’m interested in how intelligence – in the form of natural language understanding and machine learning – will begin to integrate into emerging health care innovations so as to help the industry move beyond usability hurdles to the actual exchange and application of insight across larger health care enterprises and populations.

As I travel west to Health:Refactored from Boston, I’ll be keeping this quote from Dr. Mostashari in mind and suggest you do the same: “You have to be optimistic to be in technology. It helps to see every day the new stuff. It’s what gets us through the real-world difficulties of transitioning to a new paradigm. It’s hard.” And this quote from Rocky Balboa too: “…it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Jonathon Dreyer is the director of mobile solutions marketing at Nuance.