Over the last year I’ve written a lot about the problems with health care IT and how we need to get better. Unfortunately, unlike other aspects of our life where information technology has actually made life easier, in health care the user experience been nowhere near as smooth. IT solutions, including electronic medical records, are for the most part slow, inefficient and cumbersome. They cause a great deal of frustration for frontline doctors and nurses (who should never spend more time looking at their screen than their patient). Most disappointingly, patients themselves are as yet to feel the full benefits and value of all the technology that’s at our disposal.
My own vision for health care, and particularly hospital IT would be something like this:
1. Whether it’s the medical record or computerized order entry, the process must be as seamless as possible. Doctors must be able to quickly do what they need to do (faster than writing) with minimal clicks and an eye-friendly user interface.
2. Doctors sitting with patients should be able to use mobile technology such as iPads by the bedside. We should be able to pull up data and share that information immediately. If a restaurant and car dealership can do it, why can’t hospitals? The same goes for order entry. It simply shouldn’t take anything longer than a few seconds to order a Tylenol for our patients.
3. Patients are able to easily get the information they need when they are at home and communicate securely with their physician when required. This doesn’t necessarily replace the good old telephone call, but can be used for certain blood results and medication instructions (e.g., INRs and telling patients how much warfarin to take).
4. Patients should have a complete personalized health record and be able to transfer this between institutions and different doctors. The amount of money this could save by reducing repetitive testing is potentially enormous.
5. Physicians need to be able to communicate with each other easily through the electronic medical record, ensuring that we are all on the same page with important clinical information including post-discharge follow up.
These are just 5 examples of what we should be doing with health care IT. In fact a lot of it is already happening, but the implementation and usability is often more important than the actual idea. None of it is rocket science or anything particularly complicated. The technology already exists but just needs to be better and more logically used. Certain real-world barriers do exist, such as the fact that most elderly patients are not technologically savvy — and for that matter many physicians and nurses aren’t either.
Health care administrators also need to realize that it isn’t all about just fulfilling meaningful use requirements. Beyond the tick boxes are real problems that need to be solved and health care that needs to improve. Above all else we should also always keep in mind the most basic fundamentals of practicing good medicine — namely that health care is a personal, emotional and face-to-face arena. Computers will be a vital aid to us in this new technological age, but never a replacement for real human contact.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.