One of the topics I write most about and have also done a considerable amount of consulting work on, is improving and optimizing healthcare information technology. I hate to say this, but after a few years of doing this, I’m starting to despair a little by what I’m seeing. It’s a question I never thought I’d ask: But will healthcare IT ever really get to where it should be? Improvement is desperately needed—even small tweaks can be made to our electronic medical record (EMR) systems to help improve workflow for doctors. Information technology in its current format is the number one frustration for doctors (and nurses) across the United States—and responsible for much misery at the frontlines of medicine, as an unacceptably large amount of time is spent navigating them. Here are 3 reasons why improvement is uniquely difficult:
1. Wrong customer: administrator not end-user
Attending many events and networking meetings in healthcare IT, one thing has become abundantly clear to me. We (meaning doctors) are not the people that healthcare IT folk are catering to. It’s the hospital administrations. Can you imagine if great companies like Apple totally disregarded the end-user experience like that? This is one of the prime reasons we find ourselves in this preposterous situation. As an example, I recently used the latest version of Siri on an Apple device. And how brilliant it was. Far, far superior to any voice recognition software I’ve used in healthcare, and designed with the user in mind
2. It’s a monopoly once installed
Once healthcare organizations have spent millions of dollars on a particular EMR, the IT vendor is truly “in”. The organization is stuck with it no matter what—and can’t just switch to another one if they don’t like it. Therefore, what incentive is there for the IT system to really get better?
3. Lack of strong voice
I was talking to a very intelligent doctor recently who was bemoaning how he was spending the vast majority of his day at a computer screen. Certainly not why he went to medical school. He said something very thought-provoking: “I’m surprised that the medical profession has allowed themselves to be so quickly turned into data-entry clerks without making a fuss”. So true. What happened to the public perception of a doctor—the fierce patient advocate who always stood up for good medicine? Why is there not a strong national movement to improve healthcare IT?
Even the most hardened technophobe doctor would acknowledge that technology represents the future in all aspects of our lives. But we want good technology that is fast, efficient and seamless—enabling us to be doctors. We don’t want reams of garbled data that transforms our patients’ stories into tick boxes. We want rapid mobile order entry systems. We also want an acknowledgement that the medical profession has to remain a social and personable profession—not one where the frontline heroes are turned into “type and click bots”.
It frequently feels when I meet healthcare IT folk that we are in two separate worlds. I’m quite an optimist by nature, and hope I’m proved wrong about this never improving.
If you feel as strongly as I do, please consider signing the online petition here:
Suneel Dhand is a physician, author, speaker and healthcare consultant. He has experience in a number of different healthcare environments, having worked up and down the East coast and also internationally. His specialty areas include hospital QI, optimizing healthcare IT, and improving the patient experience. He is the author of 3 books, including most recently “The Ultimate Patient Advocate in Your Pocket”, designed to help hospitalized patients. He is also the founder of HealthITImprove, an organization dedicated to improving and optimizing information technology at the frontlines of healthcare.