When I first began working in healthcare 14 years ago, it was using a DOS-based system on a terminal computer for admitting and registering patients at Elkhart General Hospital in northwest Indiana. I didn’t have my own cell phone yet and the idea of buying a laptop made me nervous because so many people had experienced catastrophic crashes with them. They just didn’t seem as stable as a desktop, you know?
In other words, I began working in the stone age.
Since then, I’ve had the chance to watch EHR-led healthcare technology mature into its teenage years. We’ve definitely come a long way from black screen computers with neon green font. But in reality, healthcare technology is still just an awkward, pimply-faced teenager that is facing many more changes ahead.
Helping Health Tech Find Itself
While it took much longer for technology to catch on in healthcare than with other industries, Meaningful Use gave the industry a huge push forward, enabling them to be adopted far faster than they would have been organically. However, the presence of and EHR doesn’t mean that it’s solving all the problems it’s supposed to, which is a big part of why many of the health applications we power are being developed today. Now that we’re leaving the Meaningful Use era behind, it’s essential that healthcare technology keeps progressing—after all, medicine and research are both fields that will always continue to advance, and the technology we use to support it needs to be able to keep up.
Healthcare technology needs to continue to grow, and despite it’s history, I believe that it’s more than up to the challenge. There are 3 main factors contributing to a much faster rate of maturation than we saw in the past decade:
- User base and technology knowledge
We’re at a tipping point where the majority of end users have either learned how to adapt to technology or are familiar with it because they grew up exposed to it. The doctors completing med school and residencies this year are some of the very first classes who likely can’t remember not having a computer in their home or a cell phone in hand while growing up, and this new generation of healthcare professionals will be fundamentally (and drastically!) different when it comes to how they interact with technology, how often they use it, and how quickly they can learn new programs. Gone is the need to train new employees to use medical software for months—the heuristics are already ingrained, and getting used to your health system’s technology will become incredibly expedient. In 2011, Clinical Informatics became an AMA recognized subspecialty available to physicians, proving the overall saturation of technology within the healthcare sphere and the technical capabilities of the medical community driving it.
- Technical knowledge, abilities, and skill
Odds are that you know someone who works in IT or the software development field—it might even be you (in fact, if you’re reading this blog, it probably is you)! In the US, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is projecting a 17% job growth increase for software developers over the next 10 years (compared to the average growth rate across all occupations of 7%). Additionally, Deloitte’s Global CIO survey found that 35% of CIOs identified developing and grooming leaders in IT as a top priority for 2016. This reflects how necessary technical skill is becoming, and how prevalent tech is in the industry. With the number of people with software development skills needed (and hopefully entering) the workforce, healthcare will be well-equipped to continue advancing it’s technology.
- Availability of technology
Technology has become an ubiquitous part of most people’s lives now, and what used to require multiple devices can now be done with a single smartphone. Having experienced a sharp increase in the availability of technology in virtually all facets of our daily lives, we naturally expect a similar variety of technical solutions in other fields that we can find, select, and use ourselves. This is often how innovation proliferates—in one sector first and then slowly (but surely) within others. Healthcare is a notoriously old-fashioned industry, but the times are changing, and a new wave of tech-savvy professionals reasonably expect their organizations to innovate and adopt new technology at more modern rate.
These factors are coming together to push both the users and creators of technology to meaningfully advance the technology being used in healthcare. However, we’re still stuck in the stage where it’s not precisely clear how we should move forward, or in what direction. While we cringe at the DOS-based programs of the past, they were incredibly quick and easy to maneuver within once you got the key strokes down—anyone who regularly used them knew their Konami Code and could fly through their workflows. As EHR workflows moved to GUIs, some of that speed and efficiency deteriorated as it took more brainpower and muscle coordination to navigate quickly with a mouse, or to learn keyboard shortcuts that aren’t always consistent or easy to figure out.
So, what will healthcare technology look like as it enters adulthood? Great question. Truth be told, it could go a few different ways, but I strongly believe healthcare technology will become more streamlined, cohesive, and intuitive not because of one or two centralized technological solutions, but because of many. Similar to how all aspects of day-to-day life have been updated with tech and have become more unified for it, so will the day-to-day life and tasks of all healthcare professionals. Notebooks and all paper will be digital; measuring blood loss will be digital; ordering and charging for medical equipment will be, too. All the workflows and tasks that are normally done manually will switch over to the digital side, and the use of widespread technology will be normalized.
At Redox, we’re fortunate to work with a large variety of applications that do some pretty amazing things that will help push the healthcare industry into the modern age. Their applications and health solutions provide more technological and intuitive methods for completing a wide variety of healthcare tasks, such as telemedicine visits, documentation of oncology survivorship, and collection of patient reported outcomes. Their tech solutions not only expedite healthsystem workflows, they make them more cohesive and easier to learn should someone move from one system to another. Furthermore, these new digital health solutions are providing healthy competition and pushing the pendulum of enterprise vs modular EHRs back towards the center. Talk about a win-win.
The Future is Now (Kind of)
The adoption of EHRs really was the turning point for digitizing healthcare, and it encouraged the rest of the healthcare field to begin to embrace technology, too. With such a dramatic shift in the skillset and people flooding into the field, it will be truly amazing to watch an entire industry take off with technology and grow in ways people (like me) could never have imagined a little over a decade ago.
Healthcare is such an unique industry, and we’re excited to be on the forefront of the push to adopt technology. We believe it will usher in healthcare that is more autonomous, unified, and intuitive for millions of people. It may still take a few years to fully mature, but health tech is young, and we’re happy to be here and help it grow.