In a recent position, I worked in the health technology sector. A repeated challenge that I tried to impress on the team was that digitizing medical records, medical practices, and healthcare is not as simple as technologizing existing practices. One of the physicians with whom I spoke insisted to me that the best technology for her work was a pen and paper. Actually, I think she might have said a crayon and paper.
The U.S. government recently initiated a program to motivate physicians to start using electronic medical records (EMRs). The government is offering cash back incentives, up to many thousands of dollars, for MDs who meet certain basic criteria in their digitization. As is the wont of the U.S. marketplace, many many business have proliferated to "facilitate" the transition. Unfortunately, while the government provided a list of criteria that have to be met to receive the incentives, they did not really do a very good job at creating a standard format for EMRs. This means that doctors' offices need to evaluate competitors to determine which application will best work for their practice. The transition is daunting and overwhelming for many doctors' offices, which already perceive their workload to be more than they can handle (for the money that they believe they should receive).
This Sunday's Business Section of The New York Times has a cogent article about this problem. [Yes, I know I reference this periodical disproportionately.] I hadn't articulated this point as well as I'd like to have done, but I think the medical records dilemma is a great example of the limitations of innovation. We hurdle ahead to make things fancier, shinier, and purportedly more streamlined. But in the process critical details get lost.
During my last project, I repeatedly reiterated that we needed to really understand workflows and the processes in place. Digitizing practices is great for something that is repetitive and cumbersome, at least early on, as the technology becomes integrated into actors' needs. It also needs to capture tasks with a predictable workflow. This sounds like such a simplistic perspective on technology, missing all the amazing and fantastical things technological innovation might offer. But in industries in which data remain non-digital, you can't simply waltz in and show off the fancy things that might be possible. It's simply far too daunting and impractical.
Thus far, I have yet to see a platform or computerized set of practices that really address the needs of healthcare practices. These still remain too piecemeal and focused on the future to really meet the demands of the people who will use the tools. While one might be tempted to say that the healthcare industry is a particularly complex arena (and it is in some ways) because of the competing users' priorities (healthcare payers, for example, have a very different end goal than the users of the system [patients]), this is an overly simplistic explanation for why the tech industry hasn't gotten it quite right in the healthcare field. I would suggest that many of the people in the tech industry simply haven't done due diligence in understanding the problems.