A funny thing happened the other day. I walked out to my car and it was dead. Okay, maybe not so funny at first, but it turned amusing when I – a major car buff – popped open the hood, my jumper cables at the ready, and couldn’t for the life of me locate the battery.
So, I swallowed my pride and rang my contact at the dealership. Turns out that they literally don’t make ‘em like they used to; and that there had been a major redesign to the works. Instead of the customary battery positive and negative terminals, were now separate conduits you had to uncover and access in order to reanimate your horseless carriage (without ever touching the battery).
Truth be told, I kind of like the simplicity of this new streamlined design. But let’s be clear… I only found it simple and streamlined once I actually knew how to use it.
That was anecdote one. Here’s another for you. My health tech company Emerge partnered with a new client this year. This account is of special significance to me because we first tried to work with them seven years ago when we were developing an earlier version of our solution. Installation – typically a snap – was a vexing experience in the case of this clinic. Our integration team kept encountering a strange system error in the form of a pop-up message that had no apparent cause or solution. We initially looked at our own code to try and ascertain the source of the bug. But after a brief investigation, we learned that client had been experiencing this very same error for over seven years, since before we’d ever even crossed paths.
Since neither their EHR vendor nor their third-party IT provider could explain or resolve this issue, the clinic staff devised a sophisticated process for dealing with the glitch themselves: ignoring it. It was actually a part of their routine workflow to click ‘close’ when the annoying message popped up. Only then could they actually gain access to their EHR (and critical patient data). One superfluous click for each access might not seem like a lot; but any clinical staffer can attest that clicks quickly add up to time and money. Do they ever.
In the end, it was our CTO and his team who had to delve into a system that is not ours, on a network we don’t control, to root out and clear this issue for our client. Basically, we looked under the hood and made sense of the mess.
But why did it need to come to that? Essentially, because of a lack of clear communication.
In my first story, the new setup of my car’s engine was alien to me; but direct communication from the vendor cleared the confusion. I still don’t know all the ins and outs of the new engine. But I can now access it should circumstances demand and charge the battery. In the second story, no such set of instructions existed. No one in the chain of development or integration had the answer. The information necessary to understand the error and eliminate it was lost somewhere in the patchwork process that is modern health tech and the error became a fact of life. It became a step in the process. If you can’t beat it… let it beat you.
My problem with health IT today is that, often times, the “battery” can be moved or improved or redesigned, but there is no clear chain of communications, disseminating a salient set of instructions for how to adapt to the changing technology (or even that any changes are being made at all).
Ultimately, in health tech – as opposed to the auto industry – the best “conduit” to improved outcomes is often times information; along with the ability to discover it, access it, leverage it and manage it.
If you’ll permit me to milk my vehicular metaphor for whatever is left of it, let me put my argument as follows. Switching to a new car is meant to better facilitate access to a destination, not complicate the travel experience. The driver need not know all the complexities under the hood, but just the basics. Similarly, converting paper-based records to digital EHRs or switching from one EHR platform to another or adding a new health tech solution to the clinical workflow should serve one purpose: streamlined access to critical, life-saving data. That’s it. The doctor need not know the coded intricacies between him and his information, but just the basics of how to tap into the system.
Now... some among you might get the idea that all of the above was merely a shameless prelude to plugging my company’s medical data solution ChartScout. Well… yeah, it was; but with good reason. ChartScout is a direct conduit to clinical data. But my main goal here is to promote a philosophy, not just a product. Emerge, our partners and other like-minded companies believe that even the most elaborate innovation should be approached with clarity, simplicity and direct communication between all stakeholders.
It’s worth saying again: all stakeholders. Because in this business, there is definitely a lot at stake.
Scott Finfer, CEO and Co-Founder Emerge Medical Data Intelligence
Scott Finfer is the CEO of Emerge Medical Data Intelligence, a company dedicated to removing the barriers between caregivers and critical Electronic Health Record data. Emerge’s solution, ChartScout, empowers medical professionals with swift, reliable access to EHR data via comprehensive patient-chart search and visualization capabilities; as well as customizable context-specific dashboards.