By Sachin Shenolikar
We are in a period of rapid technological evolution, and healthcare is one field where the rewards of innovation have massive potential. These developments could transform everything from patient diagnoses to curing diseases.
Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are a big part of these changes, with doctors’ offices and hospitals moving away from paper documentation and switching to digital methods of record keeping. On a macro level, this could result in computer programs crunching data to pinpoint trouble spots in patients’ (and their families’) medical histories to stop diseases before they happen. They could also streamline physician-patient interactions by simplifying data entry and data management.
However, we have some obstacles to overcome before this potential is fulfilled. As medical providers merge old methods with new ones, the transition has been bumpy. That has made life tougher for doctors and nurses — not the solution they’d been hoping for.
Researchers at PARC, a Xerox company, are studying how EMR integration is progressing. They found several key issues that must be resolved in order to keep innovation moving forward.
1. EMRs Must Be Mutually Compatible. This is one of the most common complaints of physicians. EMRs have yet to be standardized — there are a variety of systems that are not compatible with one another. So, if a patient goes from, say, a general clinic to an emergency room, it’s unlikely that the ER has the digital records, and vice versa.
Plus, oftentimes, the exchange of EMRs is still done by old-fashioned fax, which makes the process inefficient and increases the possibility of privacy violations, as printouts can be seen by anyone in the office.
2. Improve Alert Systems. PARC researchers found that alerts for patients’ medication interactions came up on doctors’ devices too often — pretty much anytime there was any kind of update. Not only is that annoying, but it also increases the chances of important notifications getting missed in a blur of alerts. The systems need to be redesigned so the alerts become more meaningful for the doctors.
3. Data Input Has to Be Streamlined. In the past, doctors wrote notes on paper while the patient was in the exam room. Those notes were added to a patient’s file. Many doctors still jot down notes, but they must now also take time after an exam to type their findings into a computer system. This is done in stages: general notes, prescriptions, and billing.
That’s a big pain for providers. Plus, the electronic forms have templates that are not flexible, so the information is not detailed, making them less usable for subsequent providers.
An additional burden is placed on doctors because some systems have built-in security protocols that don’t allow delegation — nurses or admin staff can’t perform certain functions, even when a doctor assigns them to do it. That may enhance security, but it makes the overall work in clinics far less efficient.
4. Logging Into Systems Shouldn’t Be So Time-Consuming. Technology exists that allows doctors to log into EMR databases using a digital badge. However, it’s expensive, so a lot of smaller healthcare facilities can’t afford it.
The result: Many doctors have to spend time typing in their password to log into a system as the patient waits. They then have to open a file for the patient’s chart and navigate to screens where there might be pertinent information. That interferes with their interaction with the patient. It’s important that security is in place, but at the same time, it is reducing doctors’ efficiency.
Simply put, the systems need to be smarter about the context of the interaction, such as which patient and doctor are assigned to a room. Steps could be reduced via a Bluetooth or a fingerprint system that takes a physician right to a patient’s chart. Any seconds that can be shaved off the process would be welcome by the doctors. They don’t want all the information — they only want the information they need.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to keep up with all of RealBusiness’ original stories.