Amidst the influx of new healthcare technologies, the adoption of new, complex coding regulations and very real financial constraints, it is safe to say that healthcare has entered a period of intense transition and change. For those who have dedicated their lives to providing care for others during their greatest time of need, the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and other emerging technology has not only meant new equipment and workflows in the exam room, but also the introduction of a new dynamic between physicians and their patients.
The art of medicine has always been just that: an art. It’s about listening to your patients, bridging questions, answers and observations with clinical knowledge to form a diagnosis, and developing a treatment plan that is then documented in a progress note. Unfortunately, one of the unintended challenges of Meaningful Use is that documentation has been limited by drop-down menus and, as a result, medical records do not always reflect the full patient narrative. For someone who has dedicated his or her life to practicing the art of medicine, being asked to distill a patient visit into a series of check boxes can seem reductive, administrative and, at times, irrelevant to the most important aspect of healthcare — the capture and sharing of the patient’s story across the care continuum.
But for all of the changes occurring and initial headaches doctors have faced as part of the digitization of healthcare, technology is actually helping us to do what we do best: interact with our patients and protect their well-bring. Products like speech recognition are enabling doctors to turn away from tablets and computer screens and, once again, engage with our patients face-to-face. Right now, intelligent technology is streamlining the capture of our patients’ narratives – as well as the structured data needed to adhere to regulatory guidelines and transition to a next-generation, population-based health system. Moreover, technology is enabling doctors to document diagnoses in concert with their patients, allowing them to hear the plan and what we, as their care providers, are thinking. As a result, the medical record is no longer this enigma cracked only by medical personnel, but a tool that allows our patients to become partners in their own healthcare.
To demonstrate the positive impact health information technology (HIT) is having on the art of medicine, I offer this personal anecdote. On May 20, 2013, the Norman Regional Health System, where I work, was destroyed by a tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City. We are a community-based hospital that sees more than 100,000 ED visits and more than 20,000 discharges, annually. On that Monday, everything was razed to the ground. Luckily, we had previously implemented EHRs and the information exchange in preparation for Meaningful Use Stage 1 and 2. In addition, we were already participating in both the Oklahoma Physicians’ Health Exchange and the Greater Oklahoma City Hospital Council. These health information exchanges connect all the major hospitals with more than 2.7 million patient records, so while we may have lost the physical facility, we still had our patients’ records.
While challenges certainly lay ahead, this example clearly showcases the vital importance HIT is having on the quality of care we are able to provide to our patients. Without a doubt, technology is helping doctors redefine the art of medicine but it’s also allowing us to evolve outdated practices and ensure the patients we care for have a contemporary healthcare system they can rely on during both the most trying and the most typical of times.