The Power Of Presenting Health Data In Context

Today I read an interesting article on the 33 charts blog, written by the thoughtful pediatrician Bryan Vartabedian. In the article, Dr. Vartabedian describes an encounter with data at Texas Children’s Hospital:

When I walked into the patient’s room, I found this: A massive wall-mounted touchscreen at the foot of the bed with all of the patient’s critical data beautifully displayed…All of the patient’s Epic data is right there in real-time. Ins and outs, blood gases and trending art line readings in beautiful graphic display. And what isn’t there is accessible by with the poke of a finger.

He goes on to suggest that by displaying the data in this way, the hospital is changing how care is delivered:

The concept of decentralized, contextually-appropriate channeling of information is beginning to disrupt the clinical encounter. As ambient interfaces infiltrate the clinical environment, the right data will increasingly find us and our patients precisely at the point of care where it’s actionable.

I really enjoyed reading this piece, as it bottom-lined something I’ve had difficulty articulating. It made me realize that I’ve been wondering if the data that’s awkward to use on a laptop or PC can be used to greater effect elsewhere. After all, it’s not that doctors dislike access to EMR data — it’s just that they dislike the impact EMRs have on their work habits.

It’s not just workflow

Much of the discussion about fostering EMR adoption by physician focuses on improving user interfaces and workflow. And that is a legitimate line of inquiry. After all, healthcare organizations will never see the full benefits of their EMR investment unless clinicians can actually use them.

But Dr. Vartabedian makes the useful point that putting such data in the right context is also critical. Sure, making sure clinicians can get to clinical data via smart phone and tablet is a step in the right direction, as it allows them to use it in a more flexible manner. But ultimately, the data is the most useful when it’s presented in the right form, one which also allows patients to consume it.

For some clinical settings, the large touchscreen display he describes may be appropriate. For others, it might be a bedside tablet that the patient and doctor can share. Or perhaps the best approach for presenting healthcare data contextually hasn’t been invented yet. But regardless of what technology works best, organizing health data and presenting it in the right context is a powerful strategy.

Creating context is possible

Of course, talking about providing contextual healthcare data and delivering it are two different things. The presentation that works for Dr. Vartabedian may not work for other clinicians, and developing the unified data set needed to fuel these efforts can be taxing. Not only that, developing the right criteria for displaying contextual data could a major challenge.

Still, the tools needed to create the right context for EMR data delivery exist now, including interactive health tracking devices, smartphone apps and tablets. Meanwhile, these devices and platforms are delivering an ever-richer data set to clinicians. Toss in data from remote monitoring devices in the options multiply. What’s more, phones with GPS functions can provide location-based data dynamically.

Sure, it may not be practical to tackle this problem while your EMR implementation is young. But it would be smart to at least turn your imagination loose. If Dr. Vartabedian is right, putting data in context soon be a requirement rather than an option, and it’s best to be prepared.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.