Electronic health records (EHRs) are an important part of the ongoing efforts to transform the American healthcare system and though there is still room for substantial improvement in their design and implementation, clinics and hospitals have become quite proficient in collecting and storing digital health data. However to achieve the actual goal of improving care while reducing costs, the medical industry will have to go beyond this first step.
Until now, providers have focused on digitizing existing records and implementing the relevant software to achieve the objectives listed in the meaningful use program and other government initiatives. While there will be some modest productivity gains and reduction of costs, just collecting the data will not be enough to substantially influence health outcomes. Providers, vendors and the government will have to work together in order to develop data analytics systems and other infrastructure which can transform collected data into valuable insights which can be used to better population health.
Fortunately stage III of the meaningful use program is expected to focus on analytics and data usage, ensuring that vendors will incorporate analytical features into their software. Until now, providers have focused on using EHRs to drive productivity improvements at the individual patient/encounter level. These efforts are not surprising given that the effects can be felt at each patient encounter in terms of shorter visit times, improved diagnostics etc. To truly unlock the potential of EHR systems however, practices will have to undertake comprehensive analytics of their patient population. Such measures are likely to have a more substantial impact on outcomes and costs.
Nevertheless, there are many obstacles to be overcome before analytics and big data can be put to proper use. At this stage, vendors and providers are barely able to keep up with ongoing initiatives such as the meaningful use program and the upgrade to ICD 10. Similarly the government is also likely to hold off on making new guidelines until the industry has had time to implement the old ones. Additionally, there are not enough people with expertise in both the medical and software field who can develop quality analytical software.
Once the meaningful use program concludes and EHRs become as prevalent as paper records are today, it will be time for the healthcare industry to focus on utilizing technology and data to provide affordable care across the population. Under the circumstances, cloud-based dental software such as Dovetail have a substantial advantage over more traditional on premise systems when it comes to leveraging existing data. Online software systems are generally more capable at sharing information and interoperability meaning that they will likely be the base upon which future technologies are built.