There are two interesting trends going on in healthcare at this time (no, I am not talking about the current debate in congress). One is that we will see more and more healthcare providers use electronic medical records – a trend that is fueled by financial incentives through “stimulus money”. The other is one of the consumerization of IT – specifically healthcare IT.
We see this trend in other areas as well – like employees using their personal cell phones of choice to access corporate email, or even bringing their personal laptops to work.
In healthcare, doctors are already heavy users of mobile technology – cell phones, smart phones, the ubiquitous pager etc. But today we’re at a point where the consumer technology is good enough to be used for clinical purposes and can actually contribute to giving doctors a little bit of their free time and their personal life back.
Case in point: The patient calls their on-call doctor after hours with a rash or burn. In the old days, it would have required the physician to drive a possibly long distance to see the patient in order to recommend treatment. Today, she can simply ask the patient to take a picture of the ailment with a smart phone and simply email it over. In many cases, the image quality is good enough to recommend treatment and help the patient immediately.

This trend is obviously troublesome for healthcare administrators. Many actually recommend against their physicians employing “unapproved” avenues to make remote diagnosis out of fear of litigation and legal compliance violations. The dilemma is that both patients and doctors use technology out of convenience where it makes sense. It is against doctor’s nature to hold back care if it is obvious how the patient can be helped right then and there.
However, I stipulate that this is actually nothing new.

  • For a long time, doctors have consulted their patients over the phone and gathered enough information to diagnose and make a recommendation for treatment, so the digital information exchange actually reduces risk in many cases.
  • The patients are the only rightful owner (note that I am not saying the only legal owner, this would be a different discussion) of their medical data. If they choose to share some of it over less than secure connections with their physician, it’s their choice. In the age of social media and Internet-based commerce, people have become accustomed to giving up some privacy and security in exchange for faster and better service online.

So, can both groups – doctors and their patients on one side and privacy advocates, regulators, and lawyers on the other side be happy? Yes.
Some electronic medical record system vendors incorporate an internal, secure messaging feature that allows patients to communicate with their doctors and nurses directly, but through the established channels of an existing EMR implementation. In addition (or in lieu) of this capability, healthcare providers can use their smart phones, netbooks, tablets, home computers etc. to securely connect to their employers system to upload data, annotate patient notes in real time etc, check for potentially harmful allergies, etc. If the EMR implementation does not expose a fully functional web based user interface, both desktop and application virtualization technologies can make it so.
Instead of getting into the cold car and driving 50 miles through snow and ice to see a patient, the doctor on call can simply pause the movie on the living room TV, switch the set to the connected PC and securely connect to the patient’s medical record, review pertinent information, write a prescription electronically (a must have under the proposed “meaningful use” criteria) and finally go back to being a private person. More personal life for caregivers, faster service for patients – enabled through technology.

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