You might think that developing a system for EMR would be fairly
straightforward. After all, some of the things that computers
really good for, are the storing, retrieval, and display of
information. But somehow, developing a system that actually
is easy to use in a hospital environment, has proven to be rather
Reading a post on the blog, Information
is Free (so help yourself.) I was reminded of a few thoughts
I’ve been meaning to disseminate. This is on the topic of
electronic medical records (EMR). It is not intended to be a
comprehensive analysis of the topic; rather, it is a loose collection
of observations and thoughts on the subject, plus some suggestions that
I think are worthwhile.
The first I heard about EMR was in the mid-1980’s, at a lecture I
attended while in residency. After the lecture, I asked the
guy (I think he was from Penn, but I am not sure) why he thought it was
taking so long to get EMR established. He said that one
reason is that with EMR, there is absolute accountability.
You can see quickly who is doing their job, and keeping up,
and who is not. He thought that fear of accountability was a
big factor. He did not think that it was resistance to
learning new technology.
However, I have personally known retiring physicians who’ve commented,
that they are glad they are getting out of medicine now, so they don’t
have to learn all that computer stuff. So I think there was a
time when there was such resistance, at least among the older MDs.
And it is the more senior ones who make all the decisions.
Now that you have MDs who grew up with computers moving into
positions of authority, that should change.
As for the accountability thing, well, get used to it. You
shouldn’t be in health care if you don’t want to be accountable.
But there is another factor, that has to do with the differences
between generations. This one is not on the medical side, but
the information technology (IT) side. The more senior IT
folks tend to think of databases and spreadsheets and word processing
as the main productivity applications for office work. That
is how they are going to approach every problem. They look
down their noses at things like Blogger, or del.icio.us or Upcoming.org
as amateurish, not worthy of consideration as serious tools.
Yet, look at what the creative class is doing with computers: it’s all
online, and it is all about generating, finding, sorting, and
displaying information to make it more useful. It’s a huge,
ongoing, collaborative, and vibrant laboratory for simultaneous
development and application of the principles of knowledge management.
It’s foolish to ignore it.
For example, just think about the ScienceBlogs site. It would
make sense for each department in a hospital to have something similar,
so each physician would have his/her own home page, with a list of
links (blogroll) to things like Medscape, e-Medicine, the Merck
Manuals, favorite CME sites, whatever; plus links to local copies of
especially-pertinent articles. For example, I have a folder
at work with articles on Serotonin Syndrome, NMS, and the like: things
that come up from time to time, have to be managed correctly and
quickly, but which I do not see often enough to necessarily remember
how to manage.
In a hospital setting, each MD would be able to view the pages of other
MDs, to see what they are doing, and to adopt whatever looks useful to
them, etc. The blog portion could be used to post general
notifications about planned vacations, etc. With appropriate
tags, and clever RSS feeds, a secretary could then get notification of
each MDs planned vacations, to make sure there is coverage.
Things like that. There could be an RSS feed so
each MD could call attention to recent articles, for example.
So if a neurologist saw something she/he
thought that all neurosurgeons should read, it
could be tagged as such and fed to all the neurosurgeons.
That would enhance cross-disciplinary communication,
something that is sorely needed at the present time.
Each MDs home page could be easily updated with links to the records of
her/his current patients, although that part would be firewalled,
password-protected, and encrypted; but it could be accessed at home via
VPN, with appropriate security certificates.
I’d love to be able to get up in the morning, make some coffee, log in,
and see if any new patients were admitted overnight, how they are
doing, whether anyone has wonky lab results, or was seen in
cross-coverage overnight. By the time I got to the hospital,
I would already have an idea of how to go about my day, what my
priorities are, etc. The nurses would have posted anything
that deserved priority attention. The pharmacy would have
posted notices about potential drug interactions they picked up, or
orders that needed to be clarified. The list of possibilities
is lengthy, and everyone could pitch in with new ideas.
And of course, in order to be most useful, the entire thing would have
to be free/open-source software (FOSS), or have a nominal licensing
fee. It would most useful if widely shared. It
would be most likely to be able to incorporate the latest
ideas/innovations if nothing is patented.
Say, for instance, that each hospital paid $50 a month to subscribe.
That is so low that everyone would gladly pay it.
But it would add up to a substantial amount.
Hospitals in developing nations would get to join for free,
and would get to see what is happening, and how things are being done,
at the best hospitals in the world. Guess what?
That would really help everyone on planet
If health care in Thailand is improved, it makes us safer in the USA.
Think about that, all of you in the Dept. of Homeland
Who would do the development? Some MDs would help.
But there probably are enough people in the FOSS community
who have had bad experiences in hospitals, that they would pitch in and
help, adding their own ideas to improve the system. (Pat Volkerding comes to mind.)
A funded foundation, like Wikimedia,
could take the lead.
What about security? Some people think that having
proprietary solutions is the best way to ensure security.
That’s baloney. Our experience with electronic
voting disproves that notion with a couple of exclamation points.
There are plenty of people in the FOSS community who are
concerned about privacy, including the privacy of their own
medical records, that there would be plenty of expert watchdogs.
I’m sure there is a strong temptation for people to try to develop such
things and make them proprietary, but I would strongly
caution against that. It would be way
too stifling. Health care is too important to be shackled
like that. The absolute last thing we need is a proprietary
system, where the only innovations are done by people miles away from
the actual users, and where each innovation is a trade secret.
That kind of thing will only get in the way, and could
actually lead to bad patient care.
Suppose somewhere a nurses’ aide comes up with a great idea to improve
sanitation, or whatever. How is that information going to get
spread? Right now, there is no way to do it. But
having something like Digg, or Newsvine, could really help.
It could save lives, literally. The best ideas
would float to the top, and anyone who cared would see it.
All these ideas are already out there. It just takes openness
and willingness to make it work.