Healthcare is moving past its earlier struggles with electronic health records (EHRs) and is now focused on how to leverage the next generation of healthcare IT to improve patient care and adherence.
The influx of these new technologies ranges from “smart” EHR systems that harness analytics to offer decision support tools, to apps that help patients better manage their day-to-day medical needs, to secure messaging that allows real-time physician collaboration from anywhere.
The aim of these new high-tech tools, according to health IT experts, is to help physicians provide better care, work more efficiently and lower costs. “The most effective practices are those that engage with technology,” says Halee Fischer-Wright, MD, president and chief executive officer of the Medical Group Management Association.
However, barriers remain to adopting these emerging technologies—among them, cost and the challenges of training staff to use them and integrating them into practice workflows.
Opportunities on the horizon
Fischer-Wright, a former practicing primary care physician, acknowledges that much of the health IT put in place in the past decade hasn’t delivered significant clinical benefits.
“Technology came in with a lot of promises that didn’t deliver,” she says, pointing to EHRs, with their roots in documentation and billing. “They weren’t engineered to be physician- or patient-friendly.”
As a result, many patients haven’t been enthusiastic users of health IT devices intended to help them take more ownership of their health. She notes, for instance, that studies show most patients can access their medical records via portals, yet only a small fraction actually do so, with fewer still scheduling appointments via a portal.
However, Fischer-Wright believes the healthcare industry is at the start of a shift, with new technologies, designed to help patients better engage in their own healthcare, becoming available or under development. Vendors are listening to physician and patient demands for more intuitive, user-friendly tools, and they’re borrowing lessons from consumer tech companies—like Apple—who have mastered how to design easy-to-use technology.
“There are opportunities on the horizon,” says Peter Basch, MD, MACP, an internist and senior director for IT quality and safety, research and national health IT policy at MedStar Health, a nonprofit community-based healthcare system serving the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area.
Basch, who also serves on the American College of Physicians’ Medical Practice and Quality Committee, says physicians welcome these tools because they can expand care into patients’ daily lives.
“We provide the best care we can during that visit, but we know statistically that only a percentage of our patients remember everything we say, whether it’s to adhere to a medicine regimen or a new diet,” he says. “So understanding there are technologies that are available, that can help patients care for themselves, I think it can be seen as something that’s helpful rather than one more thing to do.”