Not too long ago, I got a chance to speak with Anthelio's co-founder and chief strategy officer, Rick Kneipper, about the problems with current electronic medical records systems and why the health care industry is reluctant to adopt them. First he talked about the need for interoperability between the offerings from different software vendors:
We are about to spend $30 million of our taxpayer money to encourage hospitals and doctors to implement EMRs because we want to improve patient care and quality, but they're really only useful if you go into a particular hospital or a particular physician's office. If it doesn't also help you when you go to a clinic down the road or to a hospital in another city, then what good is it?
Instead, he explained, we need to get to the point where EMR systems are like ATMs: When you go to the ATM, you plug in your card anyplace in the world, and within seconds it goes through a very complex process to get through a complex set of institutions, most of which are unrelated, and you get your money. That's totally interoperable.
But until the government puts vendors' feet to the fire and says "until you can demonstrate interoperability, we're holding onto this meaningful use money," Kneipper says the vendors will fight it tooth and nail.
If interoperability is key from the technology side, from the clinician's perspective, the EMR systems must actually do what the government is telling them they should do: Improve the quality of patient care and increase efficiency. In short, they need to make doctors' jobs easier. Right now, Kneipper says:
Using the EMR systems takes doctors more time, rather than less time, and it's more complicated rather than less. Essentially, they have to learn a new way to practice medicine, which wasn't the idea.
Correcting the "usefulness problem" has two steps, he says. Get the doctors and other clinicians involved from the start so that the EMR system implemented in their facility has the features they are looking for. Demonstrate how using the EMR system will increase their efficiency.
Then you have to teach the clinicians how to use the system. Don't just send them a Web link and say, "This website will tell you everything you need to know." Set up scenarios like those they will encounter in the everyday practice of medicine and walk them through how the programs work and when they can be used.
After all, as Kneipper pointed out, if the doctors don't like - and as a result, don't use - the EMR system, it's time and money down the drain.