Because of not-so-recent advances in technology, I can go on the Internet and obtain a full report of every sale, serious accident and -- in some cases -- major service performed on my car since it was built. I can walk to any ATM in the world, insert a plastic card and direct any number of financial transactions from my U.S.-based bank. I can view my balances, transfer funds between accounts and withdraw money with just a touch of a few buttons.
These conveniences save me (and others) time and money. We rarely -- if ever -- think twice about the technology and security that makes it all happen.
So, why isn’t the same level of convenience and access available in our health care system?
Through no fault of their own, most health care providers in the United States store their important health information on paper. Many doctors still hand-write medication prescriptions and flip through chart pages to review lab-test results. In the medical profession, mail and faxes are still the standard for how information moves from one provider to another – whether patients are changing insurance policies, seeking care or consultations from specialists or showing up at emergency rooms with a life-threatening illness or injury.
This seems like an archaic approach when compared to how the world outside of health care operates. Can you imagine vacationing in Belize, waiting for the mail to arrive with Belize dollars you requested from your U.S. banking institution so that you can enjoy the rest of your stay?
We can debate whether the widespread implementation of health information technology (HIE) and health information exchange (HIT) will reduce health care costs (though a recent study from the U.S. Veterans Administration says it will). We can discuss the challenges related to integrating new technology and concerns about patient privacy and security What we know, however, is that over time HIT and HIE will reduce medical errors, make it easier for health care providers to do their jobs and enable medical professionals to navigate the health care system more efficiently to deliver the care we need.
The time for a digital revolution in health care has arrived. And as an important first step toward ensuring its effectiveness, we all should become informed about the benefits and value of HIT and HIE.