Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
You might not know it, but Nevada is on the cutting-edge of healthcare in America. Last year, a consortium of Nevada healthcare providers announced it would launch a statewide health information exchange (HIE) that will allow hospitals and physicians to share patient data in real time. When the HIE goes live Nevada will join other states, such as Colorado, Oregon, and Florida, in helping to transform healthcare for the 21st Century.
But how will the HIE help you as a patient? The best way to answer it is to look at normal, everyday life. For instance, you probably use your smart phone or tablet computer to organize, receive and send information for your job, your family and your own personal enjoyment. Providing speed and efficiency, these devices have raised our expectations with regards to technology: Any American has the ability to access information, in real time, from anywhere in the world.
This is true for nearly every aspect of our lives - except in healthcare, where real-time access to information, on both the patient and physician end, would seem to be a no-brainer. If you can sit in the doctor’s office and trade emails with your cousin in Tibet, then why are you filling out the same paperwork you’ve filled out dozens, if not hundreds, of times before? If your smart phone can receive a video of your niece taken seconds earlier in New York, then why does the doctor need to take yet another X-ray because your last doctor forgot to send the originals?
Believe it or not, doctors are asking these questions too. Indeed, thousands will be on hand this week in Las Vegas for the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2012 Conference. With more than 35,000 healthcare professionals demonstrating and learning about the latest in healthcare technology, HIMSS12 will likely be the largest to date. It’s a sign of the expanding interest in and need for a more robust, interconnected U.S. healthcare industry.
And just as with patients, physicians and clinicians want to know if the results will match the promise. As frustrating as it might be for patients, the healthcare technology gap is even worse for doctors. What information a doctor can retrieve from a single hospital terminal is often disjointed and presented in a way that requires yet another program or terminal to decipher. Think of it like looking at the Internet only through HTML code.
While the information is there, the ability to access it when you need it and view it as you need it is not. HIEs, like the one being built right now in Nevada, allows physicians and hospitals to update and share patient information with each other, such as lab results, referrals, prescriptions and radiology reports. That means less paperwork, fewer tests and higher quality care for you.
It all sounds relatively simple. However, when you consider that the Nevada HIE alone plans to connect more than 1,000 hospitals and physician groups across the state, and that these all operate on different systems, you can begin to appreciate the enormity of the task. Moreover, hospitals and doctors have been hesitant to adopt newer technology, whose value might not justify the price tag.
Fortunately, we have seen the amazing results at the federal level, where the government has taken an active role in modernizing its healthcare systems for the Social Security Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Using a system not unlike an HIE, the SSA was able to reduce the time it took to access a patient’s records from 83 days to 24 seconds. That’s hundreds of hours of manpower reduced to the click of a mouse. That’s what transformative healthcare looks like in the 21st Century.
Still, concerns and questions remain. Hospitals and particularly patients are worried about the security of electronic medical records. Healthcare administrators wonder why they should spend millions of dollars updating their computer system when that system is likely to be obsolete in a few short years. These are the challenges confronting the healthcare IT industry, but we’re making great progress.
As with the rest of the country, Nevada has a long way to go before patients receive the type of healthcare that the technology promises. But from the federal government down to the local doctor’s office, transformation is occurring at an exciting rate. We’re not there yet – but we can definitely see the future.
Jim Traficant is president of Harris Healthcare Solutions, a healthcare IT company based in Melbourne, Florida.