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EHRs, “Ditch the Disk” and the latest digital transformation in healthcare
by Paul Davenport Paul Davenport on

In nearly every field imaginable, digital transformation is paving the way for improved efficiencies, from self check-in at hotels to finance apps upending the way we bank. But in healthcare, improving “the business” goes hand-in-hand with saving lives, or at the very least keeping individuals and their data safe and well – areas where digital transformation could theoretically be making a huge difference, but where change has been painfully slow in practice.

For context, let’s go back more than two decades.

In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The goal of HIPAA was twofold: to improve people’s ability to maintain health insurance between jobs, and to make healthcare organizations responsible for the privacy of their patients’ healthcare data, which was increasingly being digitized. This may have seemed revolutionary, in hindsight, considering the state of digitization in other sectors back in the late 90s. But the rate of advancement to date has been slow and arduous.

For starters, HIPAA opened up the door to Electronic Health Records (EHRs), which were developed as a means to give every American a virtual dossier of their health records that they can take with them from doctor to doctor.

As insurers increasingly abandoned their paperbound record keeping for EHRs, the promise was clear: more efficient, navigable record keeping, for starters. But the complexity of healthcare data compared to customer profiles in other industries (ie. a bank account or rewards program) consist of is significant. In light of that, transitioning to digital recordkeeping on such a massive scale was bound to be a challenge that would take years for the largest insurers to complete.

While the number of EHRs created from 2001 to 2011 increased by 57 percent, it took another act of Congress, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, to really push healthcare providers to embrace EHRs. This act incentivized providers to leverage a government-certified EHR system to manage and share patient data. The only problem was the government certified more than 500 EHR systems, so there was hardly consensus or universal parity among the platforms used out of the gate, making EHRs hardly as portable or seamlessly integral as originally promised.

Since then, most healthcare providers have turned to roughly a dozen EHR systems, which is chipping away at the interoperability issue EHRs have posed, though significant challenges still persist.

Only in healthcare are CD-ROMs still the cutting edge.

While EHRs tell the blanket story of an individual’s health history, there is other medical data that some patients need to keep track of that can’t be folded into a digital file cabinet for analysis. Medical imaging, such as X-Rays and MRI results, for instance, are a part of life for some patients who require regular testing for their conditions.

While radiologists who administer and analyze this kind of imaging are held to some of the highest professional standards of any job – in a medical field or otherwise – many of these doctors still rely on a CD-ROM disc and desktop computer well into the Cloud Age to treat their patients. That’s because, similarly with EHRs, many hospitals rely on different vendors and systems to store this sensitive (and expensive to procure) imagery, and lack the infrastructure to share it across vendors digitally.

As a result, some patients still bring physical CDs with them between doctors and specialists. A 2006 study even found that $20 billion a year was being wasted on duplicate testing in radiology – a number that is likely far higher almost a decade and a half later.

Luckily, some of the biggest companies pushing digital transformation in the enterprise have turned their eye to healthcare in an attempt to help the industry finally reap the rewards that have long been just out of reach.

Salesforce’s chief medical officer Ashwini Zenooz, along with Microsoft Healthcare Chief Architect Josh Mandel and Michale Meully, a radiologist who was recently associated with Google Cloud, are among the tech leaders who’ve spearheaded “Ditch the Disk.” This group is a collaboration between tech leaders and medical pros who are looking to overcome the interoperability hurdle once and for all.

Ditch the Disk is pushing for widespread adoption of a new API that will make it easier for patients to authorize a hospital or doctor’s office to transfer their imaging. This effort syncs up with similar initiatives underway aiming to free up other types of medical information, including legislation from the Department of Health and Human services to ease information sharing.

While these efforts are relatively nascent, the clout behind them along with consumers’ increased comfort in letting their data live in a digital world could push healthcare’s digital transformation into overdrive sooner rather than later. But the struggles felt within the healthcare space aren’t dissimilar to the pains felt across sectors as teams offload their legacy systems for digital workflows.

The modern enterprise, for instance, has to partner with a wealth of cloud providers, ISPs and vendors to connect their offices and workers across their increasingly decentralizing WAN footprint. While teams don’t inherently have visibility into network environments they don’t own or control– ie. into the cloud or across third-party networks – monitoring tools that can assure and confirm the trajectory of traffic across an enterprise WAN now give teams the visibility they need to confidently leverage new ways of networking.

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Filed Under: industry insights

Tags: mri, x rays, medical imaging, imaging, HITECH, HIPAA, EHR, EHRs, electronic health records, patient data, healthcare data, data, network performance monitoring, network performance, cloud computing, cloud, digital transformation, healthcare digital transformation, healthcare

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