I Live in the Future…

If it is now asked, “Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.”

– Immanuel Kant

The other day I had an odd experience.  As I was doing my normal checkout at Whole Foods (stocking up ahead of the madness from the upcoming price slashes), I double-tapped my Apple Watch, held it to the NFC card reader, and felt the “tap-tap” of a complete transaction.  It’s a Series 1, so I’ve done this dance hundreds of times, and to me now it feels routine.  But the cashier shot me a look and said, “Woah! I’ve never seen that one done”.  His surprise caught me by surprise.

Two things came to mind.  First, it is truly amazing how much we can do these days in a matter of seconds.  Apple Pay replaces something that takes 30 seconds to a minute, sure (fumbling with cash, writing a check, swiping a card), but there is so much more I can do from my devices in general that happen 10-100x faster and I have become completely inured to.  Get a late night email from the boss? No problem.  Open the OneDrive app on my phone, hit the share button, and instantly reply back with the document he needs (and permissions correctly configured).  When I told my grandfather that I do quite a bit of heavy-duty work from my phone, he was extremely surprised.  To have gone from radio broadcasts to connected-anywhere supercomputers in our pockets during his lifetimes blew his mind.

Secondly, I realized that I live in the future.  My guess is that, if you are reading this blog, you do too!  So many people are anywhere from a few years behind bleeding-edge technology (the cashier) to many many years (my grandpa).  Without carefully checking in with other people, it’s easy to become wrapped up in your routine and think your baseline is everyone else’s too.

Me Adopting New Technology

Rather than lament the fact that this new technology is causing a Loneliness Epidemic across the pond or draw out the litany of examples of how major tech companies don’t handle diverse customer bases well at all, I’d like to zero in on our current struggles in the Healthcare IT field.

This week, an influential piece called “Death by a Thousand Clicks” was published on the Kaiser Health Network, highlighting some of the very serious and very shocking struggles major Electronic Health Record (EHR) vendors have had since meaningful use’s launch.  It was an eye-opening article, forwarded to me several times by family members and clinician friends.

I applaud my employer’s timely response at HIMSS19, launching Virtual Scribe and Chart Assist to improve clinical documentation, lessen providers’ cognitive burden, and help solve the problem of physician burnout. It’s an important step in using the latest technologies to solve a real and pressing problem that is causing major unneeded pain in healthcare.

But I think there is a more basic solution that is needed for Healthcare IT companies to be successful: retrain on the clinician workflow.  In “Death by a Thousand Clicks”, the author likens the Meaningful Use legislation that came from the HITECH Act to “asking nine women to have a baby in a single month”.  In the rush to meet legislation and do the right thing, certain tradeoffs were made by HIT vendors so that healthcare could continue to function, providers could get paid, and patient safety would not be compromised.

Now is the time for all of us in Healthcare IT to regroup.  Let’s breathe a sigh of collective relief: the fight to digitize healthcare is over and we won. Today, more than 90% of hospitals across every category use an EHR and 85% of all office-based physicians use an EHR.  Now that the hard tasks of installation, configuration, deployment, change, and ultimately digitization have been done, we need to reflect and heed Kant’s words.  We are not yet fully enlightened, not fully realizing the promise of digital medicine, but we can see the path forward.  I am excited for the industry to make its long-awaited pivot and tackle the basic building blocks (user experience, stability, performance) that will restore joy to the patient-provider experience.  It is a many-sided problem with multiple required solutions, but the blocking and tackling is going to be just as (if not more) important than a lot of the futuristic AI buzzwords we see today.  Put another way, I will continue to use my Apple Watch for contactless payment, but we all have to make sure that “Cash and Credit” is a seamless, joyful option for everyone interacting at the Health IT checkout line.

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