Electronic health records have been promoted by both the private companies that create them and the federal government as being an integral part of improving care coordination, public health and overall efficiency (EHRs have been shown to improve efficiency by 6% annually, in fact). But in order to reach all those goals, EHRs must be both usable and interoperable, and the health information technology industry has not yet reached a consensus on how those standards should be approached.
As Kyle Murphy detailed in a Feb. 11 article for the website EHR Intelligence, much discussion lately has turned to what sort of regulations the government might impose on the EHRs that make healthcare providers eligible for financial compensation under federal health incentive programs. Some in the health IT field have also called for a EHR monoculture, in which almost all providers use a single dominant system.
But not only does this sort of top-down regulation create implementation problems, it ignores the fact that usability may look different across fields and types of facilities.
How to Achieve Better Usability
So how can the field go about developing more user-friendly and interoperable EHR software? Murphy’s article suggests that the basic economic principle of supply and demand can go a long way.
If individual users need to wait for large-scale updates from large companies, it may take longer to implement the changes they need. Currently, the best option for most healthcare providers is to work directly with smaller software companies to get the functionalities they require.
In a Feb. 16 article for industry site HIT Consultant, Donald Voltz pointed out that this is a very similar process to the one business databases went through in their early years. His recommendation is that middleware — software designed purely to connect other information sources — is the best option based on the trajectory followed by enterprise databases.
The Future of Electronic Records
There is little doubt that EHRs will be a central part of the future of healthcare. But it is informative to look at the ways in which EHRs may soon begin to function and shape the healthcare of the future.
One of the most prominent features being built into EHRs now is the capability to capturing health information about populations, rather than simply individuals.
Another trend is thinking of EHRs from the patient’s perspective, creating systems that look almost like a Facebook feed, in that many users contribute, but patients can view the information only as it relates to them.
And finally, Murphy suggests that a more fluid type of experience in which tags define user-entered content — as opposed to users choosing from limited options in drop-down boxes and similar mechanisms — will probably continue to grow.