The changing EHR – now leveraging AI to improve patient care

EHRs are evolving into AI-fueled platforms better able to empower health systems. Now CIOs are asking: How can we optimize them?

It has been a privilege to connect with the nation’s health IT leaders at the CHIME 2017  CIO Forum in San Antonio this week.

Listening to their stories and challenges, and seeing the healthcare landscape through their eyes, is vital to helping us create the best possible technology to unburden clinicians and advance patient care.

The role of CIOs and CMIOs has been evolving in important ways in recent years. For much of the past decade, HealthIT leaders were hyper-focused on selecting, implementing and maintaining integrated, highly complex Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems across all facilities and care settings. The stakes were high. For many CIOs, the EHR buy was the single largest financial investment in the history of their organization.

Only in the past year or two, some IT leaders tells us, have they had the breathing room to become less-operationally focused, and more able to consider the bigger picture. Instead of the day-to-day questions, like “How can I get my clinicians to use the EHR?” they can start asking more future-oriented questions, like “How can we optimize our EHR?”

Now, the exciting work of clinical transformation can begin. CIOs are starting to see that EHRs are the foundation for dramatic changes in the way care will be delivered. Our EHR Services team sees this every day, as they help our clients maximize their technology investment and optimize outcomes.  One of the most interesting emerging  trends is how informatics teams are using the EHR as a platform for leveraging AI and machine learning.

For example, the EHR can be a springboard to offer predictive AI analytics to guide physicians in treating high cost, high morbidity conditions, like sepsis.  JAMA recently reported that an informatics team at University of California-San Francisco Health used big data from its EHR to help pinpoint the source of dangerous Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections. By using time and location stamps of nearly 90,000 patients over three years – the system created a “map” of patient movement. One specific location – a CT scanner in the medical center’s ED —was pinpointed as a significant source of infection.

Leveraging this kind of data for quality improvement is a huge and exciting step for health systems and delivers the real benefit of digital health information. And we hope this is just the beginning of new uses for AI and the EHR. As medical futurist, Bob Wachter, MD, chair of the UCSF department of medicine and author of The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, said to Health Data Management: “The electronic health record is a treasure trove of clinical data and insights, but we are just beginning to discover how to unlock its secrets. This study demonstrates the potential to transform patient care when innovative clinicians and technology experts join hands to tackle healthcare’s hardest problems.”

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