While the current crop of EHRs have (arguably) served a useful purpose, I think we’d all agree that there’s a ton of room for improvement. The question is, what will it take to move EHRs forward?
Certainly, we face some significant obstacles to progress.
There are environmental factors in play, such as reimbursement issues.
There’s the question of what providers will do with existing EHR infrastructure, which has cost them tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars if next-gen EHRs call for a new technical approach.
Then, of course, there’s the challenge of making the darn things usable by real, human clinicians. So far, we simply haven’t gotten anything that solves that issue yet.
That doesn’t mean people aren’t considering the issue, however. One health IT leader that’s stepped up to the plate is Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and CIO and dean for technology at Harvard Medical School.
In his Life As Healthcare CIO, Halamka lays out the changes he sees as driving the shift to EHR 2.0. Here are some of his main points:
- Regulators are shifting their focus from prescribing certain types of EHR functionality to looking at results technology achieves. This supports the healthcare industry’s movement from a data recording focus to an outcomes focus.
- With doctors being pulled in too many directions, it will take teams to maintain patient health, this calls for a new generation of communication and groupware tools. These tools should include workflow integration, rules-based escalation messages, and routing based on time of day, location, schedules, urgency, and licensure.
- With value-based purchasing gradually becoming the norm, EHRs need new capabilities. These should include the ability to document care plans and variation from those plans, along with outcomes reported from patient-generated healthcare data. Eventually, this will mean the dawn of the Care Management Medical Record, which enrolls patients and protocols based on their condition then ensures that patients get recommended services.
- EHRs must be more usable. To accomplish this, it’s helpful to think of EHRs as platforms upon which entrepreneurs can create add-on functionality, along the lines of apps that rest on top of mobile operating systems.
- Next-gen EHRs need to become more consumer-driven, making patients an equal member of the care team. Although existing EHR models do have patient portals, they aren’t robust enough to connect patients fully with their care, and they don’t include tools helping patients navigate their care system.
As far as I can tell, Dr. Halamka has covered the majority of issues we need to address in transitioning to new EHR models. I was also interested to learn that regulatory bodies have begun to “get it” about the limitations of demanding certain functions be included in an EHR system.
I’m still left with one question, however. How does interoperability fit into this picture? Can we even get to the next generation of EHRs without answering the question of how they share data between one another? To me, it’s clear that the answer is no, we can’t leave this issue aside.
Other than that, though, I found Dr. Halamka’s analysis to be fairly comforting. Nothing he’s described is out of reach, unless, of course, vendors won’t cooperate. I think that as providers reach the conclusions he has, they’ll demand the kind of functionality he’s outlined, and vendors will have no choice but to pony up. In other words, there might actually be light at the end of the EHR tunnel.