"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there," is a famous line from The Wizard of Oz.
It's true that the best road isn't always the most obvious one. Let's consider this in the context of the healthcare industry. Does the industry really know where its going—or is it speeding ahead without a roadmap?
With our electronic medical record push in the United States, we have a fundamental question to ask the health care community: Why are we going electronic?
I've led health information technology companies for a number of years and fully believe it's time to take our health information, workflows, and tools from the stone age to the new age. I just think we should know where we're going and take the road that leads to progress.
Jumping too Quickly
When it comes to implementing new medical technology, it's tempting to jump too quickly to the how before understanding the why. You may be questioning how to qualify for stimulus money, for example. Or wondering how to comply with the upcoming "meaningful use" definition.
While these are fine questions to ask in the short run, we need to be careful not to lose site of the larger goals—increasing quality healthcare while decreasing cost—as we strive to reach electronic healthcare panacea by 2014.
Health Data Management recently reported that 75% of people agree that systems relying on document imaging and management technology will drastically decrease given their lack of ability to crest the "meaningful use" requirement. This is a discouraging sign at best.
Having witnessed the evolution from paper to electronic automation, I can honestly say that health care's use of document imaging has made a huge difference to providers moving from paper to full and integrated EMR systems. To disregard this necessary step for many providers ignores the reality of managing paper-based systems already in place such as those for quality assurance, risk management, and ERs. And there's the complication of transitioning from paper forms—that have defined processes more than most want to admit—to electronic input by clinicians.
Focus on the Road Ahead
A recent report on the Colorado healthcare transition to an EHR system highlights this and indicates both the format and the presentation of information made a substantial difference when providers were converting to an electronic system.
Skipping over imaging systems and going straight from paper to fully integrated EMRs is like going from horse and buggy to this year's turbo Porsche. If not handled properly, the transition from paper to electronic can bring about losses in productivity and quality. It's important to keep the end goal in mind and stay on the road of progress while implementing the necessary healthcare IT. We need to have good guideposts along the road to ensure we're on the right path.
Finally, consider this telling report from For the Record: 77% of healthcare workers continue to be frustrated when looking for healthcare information to simply do their job. We can do better. Let's provide healthcare workers with the tools they need to do their jobs well and stay focused on the road ahead.