I’d like to share an anecdote that, only a few years ago, would have seemed so ordinary, so mundanely commonplace, that it wouldn’t have been worth sharing at all.
Recently, I drove down to visit my first cousin in Austin, Texas. Austin, most would agree, is separated from my hometown of Dallas by more than just geographical distance. Culturally, we might as well be living in different countries. As individuals, we couldn’t be more different. Yet, when we spent time together during my visit, we got along swimmingly. As we always do. United by familial love and, most importantly, mutual respect.
Well, there you have it – that was my anecdote. It should, as I prefaced, be considered remarkably unremarkable. Still, I deem it noteworthy. In a society that is growing increasingly contentious and fractious – so much so that a simple disagreement can often result in broken friendship or family estrangement – I consider being able to converse openly with my cousin about any subject to be significant. We might not agree on all issues, but at least we can agree to discuss them and to look forward to doing so again.
Once any problem affects more than one person (and most problems do), the solution might be difficult, but the approach to solving it is not: open and honest dialogue. Without dialogue, the problem can’t even be clearly defined, let alone resolved. As it happens, at least professionally, I find myself operating in the nation’s primary non-discussion zone: the realm of healthcare. If there is one issue that unquestionably affects us all, the state of healthcare is it. What, then, do we do to address it? Do we face reality and define the systemic faults? Do we outline practical solutions to these faults (which we never bothered defining)? Not even close. The problem, you see, doesn’t seem to concern us nearly as much as the ever-reliable source of bickering known as who’s going to pay for it? We can’t agree on what “it” is or how to best approach “it,” but we can all agree that if someone else pays for “it” then that would be the end of “it” (whatever “it” is).
Just because we can digitize, doesn’t mean we should. That is unless it is done in such a way that the issue at hand is supported; namely, the leveraging of data. But if digitization is undertaken only for its own sake and to a detrimental effect no less, why bother in the first place? Taking one step forward only to realize you’ve taken two steps back is simply not worth the trip.
The stampede to digitize patient data records was intended to usher healthcare to its high-tech future. Which is all well and good, except that a miniscule fraction of the effort to digitize was also dedicated to ensuring that this new futuristic form of data could be leveraged. Doctors – you know, those people charged with making informed clinical decisions and saving lives – have to struggle to access their patient data, to search it or to even know that certain parts are buried within their system. This type of “innovation” has made it even more cumbersome to communicate than before. No matter, though. The data is digital. The future is here. It is here, alright, and beating the present to a bloody pulp.
A lack of alignment of interests and poor communication fosters faulty innovation which, in turn, fosters poor access to data; and around and around the cycle goes. A vortex down to the abyss.
But here’s a curious thing: lack of open communication is characteristic not only of the so-called debate over healthcare, but it is endemic to the very core of healthcare’s technology solutions. The health tech market, for the most part, does not promote the systemwide openness required for true interoperability. This, in turn, stifles innovation, which is detrimental across the board.
So, let’s look more closely at innovation. It’s what America does best, after all, and it will undoubtedly save healthcare down the line. But that is in itself a problem. Healthcare needs to be fixed now, not down the line.
The term “innovation” connotes the social media visionaries, the ride-sharing revolutionaries or the e-tail captains of industry. But that’s not the sort of innovation that will ultimately pull healthcare out of the ditch. Those companies seek to change the world; and many of the major players among them are willing to operate without actual profits, delaying earnings in favor of reshaping their respective sectors.
Unlike ride-sharing, though, healthcare cannot afford to sacrifice the present for the future. Ride-sharing apps did not arise out of a clear and present crisis. Health tech innovation, on the other hand, is supposed to address the state of genuine emergency.
That said, health tech doesn’t really act like there is an emergency. In fact, it is doing exactly what it cannot afford to do by looking to the future while turning a blind eye to the present. Sort of like having an old house in the middle of a burning forest and dedicating all available resources to building a more modern house.
Until we are willing to accept that we are where we are and it is what it is, nothing will change.
The tragedy is that I am not even talking about some niche problems that could understandably fall through the cracks. These are basic, foundational issues which are universal in scope. Canada, for example, has a healthcare system that is quite different from America’s. Yet, digitization will carry the same repercussions for them as it does for us. How it is handled will influence the ability to leverage data and, consequently, the quality of clinical outcomes and systemic costs.
Whether the system is single-payer or private, doctors operating within the system must have instant, easy and reliable access to data at the point of care. It is this issue, above all, that must be solved because the system is broken regardless of who foots the bill.
One final thought about the future. Instead of endless arguments over how to save healthcare by deciding who pays for it in the future, wouldn’t it be better to proclaim that we actually saved healthcare in our present day by addressing its core problems? Now that, my friends, would definitely be one anecdote worth sharing.
Communication, then, is key. The ability to openly address the problems in healthcare shared by us all is a necessary first step.
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.