The Evolution of Health IT

Health IT is often considered a silent partner in healthcare – not seen by patients, but a critical part of the system. As we celebrate National Health IT Week, it’s important to realize that although health IT already has a long history, the constant and rapid evolution of this space continues to transform the market. Information has been collected and stored for years, but the promise of clinical decision support has us at the cusp of all this information becoming valuable in new and innovative ways.

Just a decade ago, I was documenting patient encounters in paper charts. Although the transition to electronic medical records (EMRs) has been perceived as slow, in the grand scheme of medicine it actually happened almost overnight. These systems were not designed with our continuously changing workflow in mind, with user interfaces and workflows that aligned to our practices. They served as repositories for patient information, but did little else. In fact, our workflow changed to support the EMR, sometimes to the detriment of the patient. Instead of focusing directly on the patient, we often must split our time and attention between the patient and the computer terminal.

Today, technology that supports clinical workflows is becoming the norm. Although mHealth is still in its early growth stage, it is growing in a way that supports customized clinician workflow. And, importantly, it brings patients into the equation by empowering them with their own health data and the ability to reach out to their care team when the data is confusing or concerning. Health systems and hospitals are beginning to see the value of these applications, and are adopting new attitudes and strategies that truly leverage technology to improve patient outcomes:

  • It is increasingly common that hospitals allow the use of smartphones and tablets within their four walls.
  • Healthcare has become more accepting of mobility at it becomes the norm across other industries. From shopping to banking, other markets have served as case studies for healthcare to observe and learn from, particularly regarding security issues. Though security concerns are still high, the more accepted mobility is in other spaces, the more it is becoming expected within healthcare.
  • Implementing mobile strategies means quicker and easier access to patient information. For example, clinicians are now able to access live and historic patient information on the fly, while walking to the patient’s bedside, and share the data with the patient in real time. These workflow efficiencies result in more time for the patient and less time accessing multiple data sources.
  • Healthcare is starting to emphasize the need for better health overall, not individual episodes of care. This shift has encouraged clinicians to value information from a variety of sources across the care continuum that more accurately represents a patient’s overall being.

From my own physician perspective, Health IT and mHealth allow me to immediately access the right data at the right time, in order to make efficient, data-driven evaluation and treatment decisions. By providing many of these same tools to patients, they become empowered to monitor their own conditions and can reach out to their care team when appropriate. In this manner, we are truly practicing patient-centered care.

The future of health IT will incorporate patient data from a multitude of sources across the care continuum, and present the data to clinicians in a triaged, value-added manner. These clinical decision support tools will allow proactive monitoring of patients regardless of location, warning the patient and care team of potential concerns, and expediting the treatment of the patient at the appropriate level of care.  We are just beginning to tap into the power of health IT and with its integration into clinical workflows, we will soon witness significant improvements in the state of our health.