Delivering on the Promise of an “E-Health” Revolution

February 24th, 2014 / By Jeremy Zasowski

As more and more hospitals and healthcare organizations convert more and more of their paper medical records to electronic health records (EHRs), an interesting dynamic has begun to emerge, as well as an interesting challenge.

The dynamic is that while the conversion from paper to electronic records was promised to provide time and cost savings for healthcare, the adoption of EHR systems by physicians has led to a number of perhaps unforeseen consequences. One of the chief consequences, which could also be considered a chief complaint, is that physicians who document on their patients electronically make less eye contact with their patients and have lower patient satisfaction ratings, vs. physicians who document on paper. In addition, family medicine residents reported that documentation time increased by about 16 minutes per patient in a recent study.

I think we can all recognize that there is always an adoption period for new technology, in which users naturally start off skeptical, slow, and inefficient, and through training and practice, progress to being fast, efficient, and wondering how they ever got by without this wonderful new invention. Think about smartphones and how strange it once seemed that you would not only call people with a phone (that fits in your pocket), but that you could also email, check the score of the football game, watch a video, and even take a photo to immediately upload to the web for all the world to see. Now, many of us wonder how we could ever live without our phones. This adoption of technology doesn’t come without side-effects however. Having all of these tools and the internet in the palm of our hands at all times has most definitely changed the way we interact with each other. Go out to any restaurant or bar. You’ll likely see a group of people sitting at a table together, with many of them staring at and tapping on their smartphones instead of conversing with each other.

This dynamic contributes to the challenge that healthcare faces today. In the face of rising costs and a rising demand for physicians (predicted to soon far outpace the supply), how do we lower costs while still improving care and health outcomes? Or, put another way, how do we make healthcare more efficient? How do we make our healthcare system able to treat and prevent diseases more effectively, while using few resources and at a lower total cost?

Technology should be an enabler toward these goals, and without question there are definite benefits to the adoption of electronic health records. However, technology and software tools and solutions must continue to evolve to deliver on the full promise of this new era of “e-health.”

I’m always fascinated by the breadth of companies and new products and solutions that I see at HIMSS annual conference, and I’m sure this year will be no different, but what I’m really interested in seeing is where new innovations will come from that will have figured out the way to combine technology with the right human factors so that healthcare providers can be more efficient and provide the type of care that their patients have come to expect, without an electronic screen getting in the way.

Jeremy Zasowski is the Marketing Manager for 3M Health Information System’s Emerging Business Team.