Just Like Reading the Paper
Just Like Reading the Paper – Most everyone seems to agree that an electronic health record (EHR) will be “better” than paper records, though, as a few have pointed out, there has not been significant research demonstrating the benefits. As I think about the national effort to create an EHR, another paper-gone-digital medium, the newspaper, can serve as an example of how going digital can “improve the system.”
In “ye olden days,” reading the paper was a full-fledged ritual that involved shaking, folding, scanning, and skimming. While some people would read the paper cover to cover, I assume that most would go to their favorite sections (e.g. – the sports pages) and skip entirely their least favorite sections (e.g. – the sports pages). This was a completely manual process that took time, and I don’t think it is too much of a leap to liken it to reading a medical record.
So what has changed now that newspapers have gone digital? Alot. On the internet, you can customize which news stories come up on your screen, based on category or on keywords. You can also have news emailed right to your inbox on a regular basis. Even further, a new technology called RSS can go out and find particular news or headlines as they get published on the internet and bring them back to your computer for you to view. For more information on RSS, click here. These are all ways that make your information consumption more efficient and more effective. Indeed, I use all of these methods to keep a daily tab on local and national healthcare and business news. This is something I could never do looking through newsprint. In one sense, these technologies have multiplied my productivity.
Taking cues from newspapers’ migration to the internet, how might EHRs benefit the healthcare system? Very simply, computers are tools that can sort through data thousands of times faster than humans. If we tell computers what we want to see – the last blood pressure reading, drug allergies, a physician’s order – then the computer can find it virtually instantly. Gone will be the days of flipping through the chart or calling the lab for a critical value. If some of the same technology described above is used in EHRs, information could be “pushed” to nurses and doctors when it gets generated and put into the system. This would essentially eliminate an entire process step from patient care.
In making diagnoses, forming treatment plans, and documenting treatment, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers are trafficking in information. This information is needed by other caregivers to coordinate treatment and for a whole host of other functions (billing, quality control, etc.). Part of understanding how EHRs will change healthcare involves understanding how healthcare personnel are information workers as well as care givers. There is no doubt that "going digital" has changed and improved the life and productivity of the information worker. It can do the same for care givers.