By Julie Zier
Look behind the receptionist’s desk in most doctors’ offices and you will see shelves crammed with manila file folders. Brightly-colored labels dot the edges. Papers of every size and shape jut out from the sides, threatening to come loose from their bindings.
One of these folders holds your medical history. Well, part of it. The rest is scattered throughout similar manila folders in offices of every other doctor you’ve visited for any other condition throughout your life. These files don’t talk to each other; in fact, unless you disclose their existence to another practitioner, there is little chance your files will ever be opened outside of a scheduled office visit or an insurance query.
We rely on physicians to analyze our health issues using their experience and education. But they can’t make an accurate diagnosis or prescribe appropriate medications when they don’t have all the information, putting our safety at risk. Can you recount your entire medical history, from year to year, doctor to doctor? Can you remember the names and dosages of all the medications you’ve ever taken? Can you remember what you ate for breakfast this morning?
With technology so pervasive in our culture, it is surprising that we still have a paper-and-pen approach to health information. In countries like Israel, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands, the conversion to electronic health records (EHR) is almost universal, with proven benefits. According to The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, only 28% of U.S. primary care physicians in 2009 were using EHR.
That’s changing – rapidly. The United States is moving forward with the large-scale digitization of its health care delivery system, a measure that could improve patient care and reduce costs, errors and administrative inefficiencies. EHR is only one component of a much broader reform. Spurred on by $19 billion in funding from the HITECH program of 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and incentivized by early adoption, health care providers are heavily in the market for information technology systems.
Some of the most innovative products under development were on display recently at the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Healthcare IT Business Exchange in Atlanta. Companies like dbMotion, whose platform promotes interoperability among discordant software systems; HMU (Home Medicine USA), with scoring tools that measure small, accumulated changes in patients, enhancing treatment accuracy and reducing error rates; MedCPU, whose proprietary Medical Text Processor allows documentation of care in free-text narrative form; and Trig Medical, with systems that enable physicians to more safely plan and execute interventional ultrasound procedures in childbirth.
Speaking at the Exchange, former director general of Israel’s Clalit Health Services and Milken Institute Senior Visiting Fellow Dr. Yitzhak Peterburg proposed that Israeli companies have much to give – and much to gain – by providing their expertise and technologies to the U.S. market.
“The understanding that health IT requires more than just software and hardware, but involves organizational and cultural change, was essential to the successful implementation of these complex systems [in Israel] and generated unique knowledge on how to manage the change,” Dr. Peterburg said.
Transformation of our disheveled, expensive, overburdened health care system is long overdue. It will be costly, complex and controversial. A change of this magnitude requires not only financial and organizational resources, but an enormous shift in mentality. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn best practices from countries like Israel, who have expertise developing the cutting-edge technologies we need, and first-hand experience implementing the extensive reform we want.
Julie Zier is a marketing strategy consultant specializing in health care. Her clients include Georgia Institute of Technology, Southface/Home Depot Foundation, Reed Elsevier and Morehouse College. She previously worked in sales for Forest Pharmaceuticals and Emeritus Senior Living. Ms. Zier earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.