Imagine trying to get ready for work every morning without having your wardrobe stored in one spot: your pants are hanging in your bedroom closet, your shirts are in your son’s room, your socks are in the kitchen, and your shoes are in the car. You might get accustomed to this daily scavenger hunt, but it’s not exactly the most efficient way to get dressed.
And yet many healthcare providers face a similar situation with their patients’ clinical data. Medical devices and tests, including implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), EKGs, and event monitors, give providers access to important data about their patients’ health. But much of that data is generated in different places and exists in a variety of formats, forcing providers to toggle between screens and machines to obtain a complete picture of their patients’ medical history. In addition, technologies such as wearable devices and health apps for smart phones have already become new sources of medical data and will likely continue to grow in popularity.
Integrating these devices – getting them to “talk” with one another – is a step toward making your practice more efficient and your patients healthier. This can be accomplished by tethering external devices to your core EHR and using the system as an information hub. For devices that cannot plug directly into an EHR, third-party software can help consolidate data and at least minimize the number of places you have to go to find up-to-date patient information.
An integrated environment has obvious implications for effective care delivery and patient satisfaction. Being able to access everything clinically pertinent to a patient encounter, in one location and in real time, can eliminate the ordering of duplicative tests and improve your ability to make a proper diagnosis. And in an era of increasing alignment, consolidation, and network formation, patients don’t want to feel like they’re lost in a huge factory-like system. They are more likely to be satisfied with care informed by notes from a recent ER visit alongside a medical history and data from an implanted device. This data should be made available to patients, as well, via a patient portal. Patients need to be included in the integration equation, and giving them access to their medical information can help get them engaged in their care.
Furthermore, patients aren’t just seeking data – they’re giving it to you as well. Personal health devices and smart phone apps are giving patients new ways to transmit information. The technology is still evolving, but in the coming years, you’ll have even more sources of patient data to manage – if you aren’t receiving that data already.
Device integration remains a daunting prospect. For providers who are already frustrated with their EHRs, introducing new devices is hardly appealing. In addition, because of the pace at which new technology comes online, providers may be reluctant to initiate integration with one device when a new or better version is sure to follow.
But this data has the potential to improve patient care if presented in a meaningful way, and providers of all sizes will be accumulating it increasing amounts. And the more disparate that data is, the less “patient-centered” care becomes.