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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

This wasn’t the theme of this week’s AIIM New England Chapter meeting, but it may as well have been since both guest speakers waxed eloquently about the need for, and emerging adoption of, health information systems that connect patients to their doctors, and doctors to each other.

Girish Kumar Navani of eClinicalWorks (www.eclinicalworks.com) and David Cochrane of Vermont Information Technology Leaders (www.vitl.net) held the audience captive as they led a discussion of the behavioral, psychological, and economic challenges that still bedevil efforts to improve healthcare delivery, outcomes, efficiencies, and fiscal standing. (By group agreement, the politics of the day were pushed to the side to ensure a free flow of conversation. More’s the pity!)

The net of the morning’s discourse was both liberating and frustrating, as the two speakers reported their organizations are making excellent headway in their respective arenas (one as a vendor, the other as a public/private sector partnership), and yet the state of general progress is as deliberate as ever. After the event, this observer was left with a distinct sense of “hurry up and wait” and a few possibly interesting observations:

  1. Healthcare IT of the sort described – steeped in content, communications, and collaboration management – actually works! It better engages patients, enables more effective treatment, and lowers costs.
  2. The problem is that such technology isn’t cheap, and while federal incentive programs are currently in place, it is unclear whether they are robust enough to really push such initiatives forward.
  3. Reaching critical mass likely is a function of generational change, as younger patients and medical staff are more comfortable than their older counterparts with using computers for research and communication. To see this is true, I need to look no further than my 60-ish primary care physician and his 30-something physician’s assistant, one of whom approaches the exam room PC with great gusto and the other with apparent caution. I’ll let you guess who is who!
  4. Electronic patient records, though enormously efficient in terms of portability, shareability, and storage, raise fascinating new questions about their ownership and management. As accounts of services provided, they clearly are core to the doctor’s business, but as documentation of a patient’s condition, they also are intensely personal. So who’s responsible for maintaining their existence and ensuring their accuracy?

Being only several hours long, this session was barely able to scratch the surface of some of today’s most topical and potentially explosive societal questions. Let’s keep the discourse going: what do you see as some of the biggest obstacles in healthcare IT right now? Let me know by commenting here, emailing me at sweissman@hollygroup.com, catching me on Yahoo IM: sbweissman, or tweeting me on Twitter: steveweissman.

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