At the HIMSS (Health Information Management Systems Society) conference in February, I attended the eCollaboration Forum, which explores collaborative platforms as foundations for a transformation to Accountable Care. One of the sessions was headed by a panel of doctors advocating a change in the overall healthcare delivery process, including a shifting focus away from institutions and toward consumers and ePatients. You could feel the passion and commitment of each member of the panel as they described their day-to-day encounters with their patients. Panelists discussed several reasons why the move toward patient engagement is slow to come in the industry, but many of the reasons related to health information technology vendors (or, as the panelists put it, “the people from the dark side.”) Panelists cited an unwillingness of vendors to change, bloated and dysfunctional companies, a misunderstanding of providers’ situation and/or needs, and plain old lack of innovation as some of the main disconnects between vendors and the users of health information systems. The discussion was a wake-up call for me. I was appalled to see the inherent disconnect between the vendors and users of the products we create, and the realization caused me to think about my unique role in the healthcare IT ecosystem.
Before my time at Hello Health, I worked on a product that was designed to manage the inventory and delivery of breast milk in neonatal intensive care units. Our product used a mobile device with an integrated scanner to track the different steps within the milk delivery process. During our first beta test, the system detected “a significant number of near-miss” cases, meaning that a nurse could potentially have given breast milk to the wrong infant, or had an incorrect fortification formula, and the system advised against it. After making sure that these events weren’t related to training issues or a system malfunction, hospital staff decided to reevaluate all workflows and processes within the unit. This was a real eye opener and profound professional event for me. Realizing that the product we built potentially prevented dire consequences to newborn babies was a true inspiration. I then realized the incredible contribution IT could bring to transform care delivery to patients.
Information technology (IT) experts are in demand these days, and so tend to have the luxury of choosing to work in many fields -- from banking and manufacturing to selling tickets to shows online. I feel that Health IT is the only field where the intersection of satisfaction and self-actualization is similar for both the clients and the vendors. As individuals, we all receive gratification for helping people live a better and healthier life. Hello Health is a unique EHR company; from day one the patient has always been at the center of the equation. Patient engagement is not a trend that we are following, but a core and fundamental building block of the company. I think that we are part of the solution, and hope that we can work with dedicated and committed providers of care like those on the HIMSS panel to make the focus on patient engagement a reality.
Ali Dufour is the Director of Research and Development at Hello Health, the revenue generating EHR platform for primary care practices supporting practice vitality through patient engagement and electronic medical revenue.