It appears that there is a gap between the available information technology within healthcare and the adoption of that technology. What is behind this gap? Are health care professionals simply too busy to take advantage of new technology or are the current healthcare privacy laws preventing us from using networked information tools to their fullest?
We have been applying technology to healthcare and disease prevention for centuries but it is only in the last fifty years that we have applied technology to healthcare information collection and dissemination. The pace of introduction and adoption is accelerating and that is causing problems with healthcare professionals and healthcare IT professionals. On the one hand, the introduction of sophisticated healthcare record management applications brings a welcome relief to an industry facing increasing privacy and record management regulations but, at the same time, it is coming on top of an already full workload. How is a healthcare professional supposed to find the time to learn and master the new systems? What is the role of the healthcare IT professional? Are we doing all we can to simplify systems and interfaces in order to accelerate adoption?
Electronic Health Records
According to the Health Information and Management Systems Society, “The Electronic Health Record (EHR) is a longitudinal electronic record of patient health information generated by one or more encounters in any care delivery setting.” This includes information on past interactions with healthcare providers as well as current and past medication history. The aim is to make this information available through an electronic interface to any healthcare provider, whether a patient is seeing their primary provider or whether they become ill while vacationing in a foreign land. With great information, however, comes great responsibility, and thus legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This creates the tension of providing available medical records through a secure and responsible infrastructure to strained healthcare providers who don’t have additional bandwidth to learn new systems and interfaces.
Interoperability of Health Care Records
Health IT will not achieve the predicted savings and efficiency until technology is more widespread and readily adopted according to a new Health Affairs report. Part of the issue of full adoption has to do with interoperability of health records. Right now, there is not a single standard for sharing health information, and vendors do not have a strong incentive to create a standard. If we couple difficult-to-use technology with the fact that a provider cannot see the full patient history across various health interactions, it is no wonder that health care professionals are reluctant to jump on board and embrace this exciting yet uncertain future.
The question then becomes: what can we do to accelerate the adoption rate of new healthcare technology and systems in order to make record keeping and retrieval easier for everyone?
About Kelly Brown
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.