Blog | Friday, January 16, 2015

How information technology has made health care (just a little bit) better


Health care information technology really has a long way to go before it lives up to its promise of truly improving healthcare. Having written a lot about the pitfalls (which I will continue to do, because it's important we address them) including reduced efficiency, less thoughtful medicine, and worst of all decreased human contact with our patients—I thought I would write about where IT has actually made things a little better.

I had a conversation at a hospital medicine meeting recently with a former colleague, a wonderful Chief of Hospital medicine who served as my mentor when I first became an Attending physician. I was telling her my thoughts on the suboptimal state of health care IT, and while she agreed, she then started telling me about how she thought the changes over the last several years may have actually improved hospital medicine in several ways as well. We discussed this in detail, and yes, it made me reflect on the fact that there are many good things along with the bad. Here are some of them:

1. No more paper charts

Who can ever forget those days of trawling through dozens of paper charts to get that elusive information we needed? Computers save so much time when you're searching for certain documented notes and test results. Furthermore, paper charts are also hard to locate on hospital floors, and doctors would often need to circle the unit several times to find it! Nowadays—just go right to any computer to access the chart. Not to mention it's much better for the environment as well to not to be using so much paper.

2. No more hand written forms

In the past, admitting a patient to hospital would mean that the doctor or nurse had to manually fill out reams of paper forms. Not anymore.

3. Remote access

Paper charts meant that the doctor would have to physically go to the specific unit to look at the information they required. Now this can be done from any computer in the hospital and even from your own home if doctors are called late in the evening.

4. No more doctors' handwriting issues

Enough said, we all have a story here to tell. The days of unit secretaries asking everyone on the floor: “What does this medicine look like to you?—are over.

5. Clearer doctors' orders via computerized entry

Fewer ambiguous orders that may not reflect best practice standards or correct medication dosages.

The above 5 points are worth reflecting on every time physicians and nurses (understandably) feel frustrated by some of the current crop of unwieldy and inefficient systems. If we can just make these better, magnifying the obvious good and minimizing the very apparent bad—while keeping human contact at the heart of health care—we will be on the right track.

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.