Blog | Friday, August 22, 2014

5 ways that health care IT must get better


I had the honor of speaking at a large event in Cambridge, Mass., about how health information technology (HIT) needs to better integrate itself with the realities of frontline medicine, while also enabling doctors and nurses to spend maximum time with patients. The audience was filled with young and enthusiastic people—clinicians, IT professionals and entrepreneurs, people with great ideas who seemed committed to the cause.

HIT has of course grown exponentially over the last decade, as electronic medical records (EMRs) and computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems have become ubiquitous. It’s funny to think that not so long ago, physicians and nurses had to trawl through piles and piles of paper charts to search for the information we needed, whether it was lab results or patients’ notes.

However, the road to this electronic environment has not been entirely smooth when it comes to implementing the technology in hospitals. There have been lots of bumps along the way as health care organizations have rushed to comply with Meaningful Use requirements in order to receive much needed federal incentives. Ironically, because of the time and effort that it takes to learn new systems, many EMRs and CPOEs have inadvertently impaired patient care to a certain degree. And due to the suboptimal nature of many of these systems, these problems have persisted well beyond their “launch”, no matter how noble the initial goals were. Here are 5 ways that health care IT must improve as we look towards the future:

1. Make systems more efficient
Entering data and orders is still too cumbersome, and needs to be made much more user-friendly. Get rid of the mouse, utilize touch screens and have minimal clicking to get what you need. Ordering something as simple as a Tylenol should not take a dozen or so clicks and several seconds of typing, as it frequently does.

2.Integrate different EMRs together
Different hospitals and primary care clinics typically use different systems, presenting significant logistical difficulties for doctors to get the information we need. There has to be a better way of bringing everything together.

3. Make everything mobile
Just like we can walk around our house with our tablet computers, doctors and nurses should be able to do the same in the hospital. Yet we are still largely restricted to our desk and PC. Using a mobile “cart” is no better, and it’s far from ideal to be pushing around heavy equipment in today’s technological age.

4. Start using voice recognition
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just speak out our orders into a hand-held device, just like we can talk to Siri on our iPhones? How much time would this save at the frontlines? Similar to how we frequently dictate our notes now, it should be just as easy for entering orders.

5. Recognize the limitations of IT and understand that health care is a human experience
While technology is wonderful, it does have limitations. The world of IT has to understand that the field should be used as an aid, working side by side with doctors and nurses. It isn’t, and never will be, a substitute for human contact. If we’re talking about patient satisfaction and improving the health care experience, nothing trumps good solid medicine in a compassionate and caring environment.

The next few years will be pivotal in determining the type of health care we value and want for future generations. It will also determine the role of the doctor in this new medical age. It’s vital that health care IT is not only made better, but also used in the right way. Only by all parties working together—doctors, nurses, IT professionals, entrepreneurs, and even the government—will we ensure a brighter future for our patients.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care. This post originally appeared at his blog.