From The Editor | July 5, 2012

Critical Content Can't Be Siloed

By Ken Congdon, Editor In Chief,

This month, Health IT Outcomes is proud to present a special online and print editorial compilation titled Critical Content: A Focus On EHRs, ECM, & RCM. This compilation focuses on the “critical” patient health and financial data we are in the process of digitizing as a healthcare system. The federal government has deemed this move as a monumental step in cutting healthcare costs and improving patient care in the United States. It has even put incentives in place to spark IT adoption to this end. However, not everyone is convinced reduced costs and improved quality of care will be the result of this initiative.

In fact, several studies over the past few years have been quick to point out that EHRs aren’t having the impact the federal government expected. For example, a 2012 study published in Health Affairs showed that EHRs actually led to more medical testing, rather than reducing the number of tests ordered. Similarly, a 2011 report from the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that there was no consistent association between EHRs and better care quality. Another study led by members of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2009 found that EHRs didn’t decrease hospital administrative costs, but actually increased them slightly.

Remember, simply plugging in EHR software was never the endgame here.

Should we as an industry take this research to heart? Should we throw up our hands and learn to accept the fact that we tried and failed? The short answer to these questions is, “no way.”

Remember, simply plugging in EHR software was never the endgame here. We’re striving for complete health data interoperability. Let’s forget for a moment that the studies referenced above are based on old data (most of the info was collected between 2003 and 2008). Even if the data collected was current, we need to realize that our healthcare system is still in its infancy when it comes to connected health. Sure, at last count 87% of hospitals and 57% of practices currently have EHR systems in place. But, EHRs are just the first step in this journey. Much of the EHRs in use today store electronic data in silos, and this, in many cases, is only slightly more effective than managing paper charts. The true impact of the health IT movement will be realized when data can be shared seamlessly and securely among different systems and providers.

We’ve highlighted several health providers that are further along in the “connected health” curve in this special compilation. Hopefully, the experiences of organizations such as MultiCare (highlighted in the article EHR Role Models) and BayCare Health System (highlighted in the article BayCare’s HIE Blueprint) will inspire you by providing a glimpse into the benefits all healthcare providers can expect to enjoy once true interoperability has been achieved.