Information technology has made the delivery of healthcare much more effective. Electronic records have synchronized medical data across doctors’ offices. Patients are more engaged and informed. People and practitioners have easy access to health information, allowing them to make better decisions.
But the path toward improvement remains rocky those in the medical industry. Some health IT changes have been slow in coming, and the complexity and costs have stymied progress in many places. Questions about security and privacy linger.
However, the outlook for IT in the healthcare field looks bright. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has introduced the Health IT Playbook, a guide to overcoming challenges and implementing best practices. The playbook is divided into 11 chapters, each representing an area of IT health implementation and usage.
What is the Health IT Playbook? Think of it as a guide to implementing best information technology best practices in the healthcare industry, packed with practical information and insight. It is a living document: It is located on the ONC website, so it can be continually updated at revised as new information comes to light.
The Health IT Playbook is essential reading for those already in the healthcare field, and those studying to be a part of it. A background in healthcare administration will play an important role in understanding and implementing the changes described by the playbook.
Here are three of the highlights we gleaned from reading the handbook:
Health care communication is now truly a two-way street. Patients are expected to interact with their doctors, asking questions and making informed decisions. Health IT facilitates this exchange, primarily through the use of patient information portals that allow patients to access their care history and test results.
There’s a cost-saving benefit to doctors who strive for greater patient engagement: The Health IT playbook says that it can reduce the burden on staff to provide information and answer questions. It also reduces call volume.
- Facilitating easy enrollment: Many patients say they didn’t even recall being asked to use a portal at their physician’s office, or lacked the motivation or skills to do so.
- Developing an automatic enrollment policy: It is advantageous in many cases for healthcare providers to enroll patients instead of making this an option for later.
- Registering patients in the office: Like automatic enrollment, this encourages patients to opt-in right away instead of waiting till later, when they might not feel motivated or inclined to enroll.
- Educating the user: Once a patient has been registered, it is incumbent on the medical practice to teach the user how to use the system.
Privacy and Security
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules are now well known in the healthcare industry. Today’s challenge is adhering to those rules as new technology solutions are rolled out.
The digital environment in which patients and practitioners now exist is much more complex than the one that existed when HIPAA became law in 1996. This means health systems have become increasingly complicated in an attempt to ensure both privacy and safety in an IT environment. Stories abound about data breaches in all industries; a recent worldwide malware attack called WannaCry crippled large swaths of the British National Health Service.
The HealthIT.gov website offers a free tool to help small- and mid-sized practices perform risk assessments. The tool can be found here.
Quality and Patient Safety
Information technology can be used to automate many of the functions that were previously handled manually, reducing the possibility of human error. The Health IT Playbook suggests the benefits of health IT extend to medication management and procedure ordering.
To be successful, however, these automated systems must be easy to use. The guidebook says “usability refers to how well the system supports the end user’s work, and to the extent to which the user-interface design makes it easy for people to complete tasks while minimizing human error.” In other words, increased usability might mean removing some error from the decision chain, but the system must be designed well enough that the practitioners are less likely to make mistakes at the beginning of the process.
Quality improvement can be combined with electronic health records to provide a clear picture of progress over time. Such monitoring and feedback are important to determine if problems are being addressed and where there might be impediments.
Topics in the Health IT Playbook
Other issues discussed in the Health IT playbook are electronic health records, health information exchanges, value-based care, population and public health, transformation support, certified health IT, care settings, and specialists.