I have had the unfortunate experience of having my wife of over 30 years pass away from pancreatic cancer. She lived for 18 months from her initial diagnosis. Prior to that she had been a very healthy 62 year old. During the course of her illness, she was treated in five different hospitals, was under the care of over 40 physicians, and had numerous surgical and diagnostic procedures. One might say, “Well, this was certainly an edge case.” But hasn’t experience shown that it is the edge cases that bring out the flaws in the system? While I participated in her long and painful journey I came to realize that in spite of all the assertions made about information exchange and interoperability in healthcare, they are almost nonexistent once you go outside the four walls of a hospital.
The fact is, unless the patient or their family takes responsibility for the information that different hospitals and doctors will require when they come on board, they will have no reasonable way to have access to that data. During my wife’s illness, on numerous occasions, I had to hand carry DVDs, CDs, or memory sticks so that other physicians could see the results of CT scans and radiology reports. I had to manually maintain a spreadsheet of her medications since there was no centralized system that was kept up to date, even where she was being treated. Obviously, the more manual recording the greater the chance for error, not to mention lost time.
I am writing this blog as a call to action. While many are wringing their hands over healthcare costs, in my opinion IT Vendors and Hospital Administrators are doing a great disservice to patients and medical personnel by not forcing their vendors to make it a high priority to improve interoperability and information exchange. As we all know, there are a number of high level committees and organizations that are working on this problem. However their progress is slow and the need is now.
Many of them have not even thought through how the Cloud can be a game changer.
The reality is that if Apple can provide iCloud so that users can upload all their content of different types to a single user ID and then deliver it to multiple devices, it is not so far fetched that the same capability could be applied to patient records. Patients typically have single identifiers. The notion that information stored in the Cloud is neither secure nor easily accessible has been proven to be a myth.
In addition, there are companies who provide low cost HIPAA compliant secure messaging solutions that can be implemented in minutes that will securely transfer data to and from the Cloud as well as between applications hosted in the Cloud.
It is my belief that if as much attention and investment is focused on medical information exchange as has been placed on making billing systems interoperable, we will have not only improved patient care but a more efficient use of our medical resources as well.