Who Is Paying the Price for Health IT’s Shortcomings? Patients Are.

Picture this. You plug an address into Google Maps but it guides you to the wrong house. You order lunch from Foodler but it never gets delivered. You walk outside but the Uber you requested seven minutes ago fails to arrive. Hard to imagine? That’s because these technology-enabled services generally function quite smoothly, to the point that we take the marvel of their underlying technology for granted.

Advances in technology have fundamentally altered and inarguably improved the way we drive, shop and travel. Sadly, however, information technology has failed to deliver so far in the most crucial service of all – healthcare.  Specifically, electronic health records systems (EHRs), while having largely succeeded at eliminating paper medical charts, are creating as much frustration as benefit. EHRs in and of themselves will not improve the care delivery process. But new and innovative healthcare IT applications, building on the foundation of electronic health records, can.

To begin pulling healthcare IT out of the past, we must first take a look at how it supports the professionals on the front lines of patient care – physicians. The short answer today is “not well.” Problems include poor presentation of patient data, fragmented information sources and unwieldy user interfaces that require dozens of mouse clicks or screen taps. It’s no wonder more than half of physicians who responded to a recent survey claimed their EHR system had negative impacts on costs, efficiency and productivity – three things IT should help, not hinder. These issues not only affect physicians’ professional satisfaction, they contribute to the phenomenon of physician burnout, which is a growing concern across healthcare. Studies show some 30 percent of primary-care physicians age 35-49 plan to leave medicine, and there's an expected shortage of 25,000 surgeons by 2025. A Mayo Clinic study released earlier this year directly connected the burnout problem to physicians’ use of EHRs.

While some of these issues may be hidden from patients’ view, here’s one that isn’t: Doctors with EHRs in their exam rooms spend one-third of their exam time looking at computer screens instead of speaking directly with patients. So to think physicians’ tech-related problems aren’t affecting patient care would be naïve.

What then can be done – by providers, tech vendors and patients?  

Providers must engage more actively and consistently in health IT product design and deployment to ensure that the technology truly meets their needs and supports their workflows. And tech vendors must invite them to do so.

For their part, patients need to get involved and take a more active role in their healthcare, since studies show that patients who are more engaged are healthier. Today, patients have access to a vast body of information – the notes doctors take, quality of care rankings, the level of personalization provided – and it’s only going to increase. They should take advantage of patient engagement tools such as patient portals or wearable devices that deliver information electronically to a caregiver. And patients should feel empowered to seek alternate care if they sense they are receiving inferior treatment or have a poor connection with the provider, due to technology or any other factor.

It’s time to make healthcare work better for both patients and providers. Leveraging the innovative, ground-breaking tools we have at our disposal will propel healthcare quality and efficiency forward. Making electronic health records and other healthcare IT as intuitive to use as Uber, Foodler or Google Maps will not only improve the quality of care, it will help to enhance the overall healthcare experience for everyone involved in it.

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