Thursday, February 17, 2011

“Quickening” the Flow of Health Information – Part Two

Sometimes you just have to be quick. And I wasn’t, so Part Two is later than I planned. Here are some more analogies between Quicken (which I use for my “Electronic Financial Record”) and an Electronic Health Record inasmuch as both require information exchange. Of course, “money” and a relatively small data set are exchanged in financial transactions, rather than the vast array of health information. So with that caveat, here I go.

  • Making payments is analogous to Direct Project “push” messages. I enter payments that are pushed to payees in a format that they can accept (some electronic, some paper checks). I can enter these payees’ addresses or have Quicken look some up in a directory. My interaction is simple, but Quicken and the financial network (like a healthcare HISP) securely route the transaction behind the scenes.
  • Quicken updates my register pulling relevant data from my bank. To me, the bank is analogous to a Healthcare Information Exchange in that it received and aggregated transactions from many payees, so I don’t have to connect to all the payees. I can download from the bank as needed. Of course, the bank has security and privacy protections for my data, similar to how health data must be protected.
  • Balancing my register, which occurs automatically, is comparable to data reconciliation in an EHR (though it is much much simpler for money than for health data!)
  • I can set up automatic actions such as reminders and payments, which is analogous to workflow automation features in healthcare, where events (like signing a letter or discharging a patient) can trigger data to be transmitted to others.
  • Quicken interfaces to tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax, which then files taxes with the IRS and state. This is analogous to healthcare transmissions to public health and quality reporting agencies.
The bottom line is that I use Quicken because it saves time and money and helps me do things that would be hard to do on my own. Just avoiding the late fee on one credit card bill pays for the software investment. I’ll surmise that healthcare providers would insist on those kinds of benefits and more. If a provider can have an EHR that can do more than just the electronic equivalent of FAX -- like quickly match and autofile incoming messages to the right patient, help reconcile the data, notify the user that new information is available, provide clinical decision support, improve efficiency  – that EHR would ultimately pay for itself with or without incentives. All of us who work on EHRs need to keep that in mind: if my professional livelihood depended on using this EHR, would I use it? Personal Health Records (PHRs) are an even closer analogy to Quicken, and I believe that they too need interoperability and Quicken-like value to deliver on their potential (rather than being something that most consumers don’t have time for).

Interestingly, Dr. Clem McDonald (an HIT pioneer) recently  wrote a similar analogy, that ideally healthcare data import ought to be as easy as importing bank statements to Quicken, in his commentary Clinical Decision Support and Rich Clinical Repositories in the Archives of Internal Medicine (sorry, the link used to be public but now requires membership).

To wrap up… securely pushing information, as simply as e-mail, is good progress. Liquidity of information, whether health or financial, enables value to be realized when software acts upon it. Financial software has progressed far beyond just moving information. Healthcare isn’t nearly as far, but it’s advancing and more options are becoming available. Not all EHRs are right for everyone, but I believe that they’re on the road to being as if they were “healthcare Quickens.”

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