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Is Health IT Going Mainstream?

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A member of our mobile team at Nuance Healthcare consistently reminds us that just because doctors are, well, doctors, we mustn't forget that they're also consumers -- just like you and me. In other words, when it comes to technology, particularly mobile technology, it's essential for companies to consider typical consumer wants and needs like streamlined design and ease of use -- as well the fast-paced, noisy, human-centric environment in which doctors practice. More often than not, something seemingly simple like a user interface for an app aimed at a doctor doing rounds can make or break that solutions adoption curve. In essence, health care app developers must wear two hats when designing for the clinical community -- everyday consumer wants and physician needs.

Conversely, we must also acknowledge that just because consumers view health care as a service, it doesn't mean they aren't generally intrigued by the practice of medicine and interested in seeing it as a more "user-friendly" process from their own perspective. One need look no further than the ratings for Grey's Anatomy or the increase in the number of websites and apps aimed at self-educating patients to realize that while patient care was once a one-way street, it's turned into a two-way highway. What hasn't been as clear to date, is how consumers view the application of technology in the established health care setting they've grown accustomed to. Is health IT a no-brainer from their perspective or a nuisance?

Today, the general consumer is most likely experiencing first-hand the advent of technology in the care process -- from an unexpected visit to the ER to "liking" their primary care provider on Facebook. But, is the depiction of a mobile electronic health record (EHR) as interesting to the consumer as "McDreamy" might be? Based on what we're seeing in the news and on television as of late, the answer to that question seems to slowly but surely be morphing into a "yes."

London 2012 Summer Olympics Pick Electronic Health Records as Winner

A recent story in eWEEK highlighted news related to the U.S. Olympic Committee making the jump from paper-based medical records to electronic records. The committee is deploying EHR and image viewing technology to ease the workflow for doctors tracking athletes' health across the globe. According to the story, for the 2008 Bejing Olympics, a boatful of paper record palettes were shipped over and then had to be collated and put away upon arrival. Now, in 2012, just four years since the Beijing Olympics took place, this type of health information transfer sounds archaic.

Additionally, through integration with GE's EHR and the database of the Medical Quality Improvement Consortium (MQIC), doctors will have access to analytics capabilities aimed at enabling the creation of benchmarks for health trends. These benchmarks will provide broader population-based insight so as to enable smarter, information-infused development of treatment protocols.

Overall, the goal of this transition is to provide care in a more efficient and thorough fashion for athletes through access to electronic health information, including patient medical history, allergies and medicines, so that athletes can pursue the goal they've sacrificed so much for -- a gold at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

TV Star Spotlights Health IT

In May, Dr. Mehmet Oz helped put EHRs on the map when he hosted a television show with 75 medical students. Together, they provided 15-minute physicals to over 1,000 patients in Philadelphia. Oz and team then offered up an overview on the City's health based on these physicals to the mayor of Philadelphia. The show and related synopsis from a Forbes blogger (hyperlinked above) quote Dr. Oz as saying, "The electronic medical record saves time when done right, so doctors can spend more time with their patients." This sentiment was shared with Oz's consumer-facing audience who may not necessarily have a deep understanding as to why this digital overhaul of health care can and must take place now. Moreover, even more recently, Dr. Oz shared the value of EHRs with an even broader audience as he hosted a similar show in Portland, OR.

Dr. Oz, fondly known as "America's Doctor," is also the vice chairman of surgery at Columbia University, the director of the Cardiovascular Institute, and the founder of the Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital (the same hospital featured on the latest health care-related TV show, NY Med). Clearly, his sentiment in relation to the benefits of health IT is one that somewhat echoes that of the general public's. After all, it would be hard to imagine any television show taking a risk on content that potentially might not resonate with their audience and then, in turn, impact their ratings.

ONC Kicks-Off "What's in Your Health Record?" Contest

Recently, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) announced their "What's in Your Health Record?" video challenge. As part of this challenge, individuals are encouraged to submit concise videos sharing their personal stories on how close review of a copy of their health record helped to improve the overall quality of their care and their ability to understand their own health. The contest, which runs through August 20, offers $7,200 that will be presented to the winners. This isn't the ONC's first crowdsourced contest by any means but it's one of the few that I've noted to be specifically aimed at engaging the general patient population in order to promote the value of health IT from a more personalized care perspective.

This is an exhilarating time for the health IT industry and much of the excitement that I as part of that community experience is driven by the realization that the technologies we put into doctors' hands can directly impact patient care. While we at Nuance have been able to touch approximately 450,000 physicians alone here in the U.S. through our speech and understanding solutions, it's exciting to also think about how our solutions have indirectly touched those physicians' patients.

Who knows, maybe in the next year or two we'll encounter a reality television show solely focused on health IT industry players (similar to Bravo's latest "Silicon Valley") or the providers who are using health IT hands-on to impact patient care. Better yet, a show focused on how patients are directly leveraging technology to improve their own health might prove valuable for the population at large. One of these potential show themes and related mass public acceptance and interest in health IT might not be too far off from today's horizon.

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