Nearly every day, clinicians face a challenge that impedes their workflows and jeopardizes patient care: accessing the right data at the point of care.
Neel Desai, MD, a primary care physician in Kentucky, knows the struggle well. Too often, he’s forced to click through the electronic health record, hoping to find data that might exist deep within his system. Worse, it might not be integrated and available. The data might even exist only on paper.
“The problem is, all that time that’s wasted—searching and digging, going on a wild goose chase—to find important, relative data to help you make the right clinical decision for your patient,” said Dr. Desai, co-founder of a company called MedFlashGo, which uses voice technology to improve medical education.1
That hunt for data translates to more screen time and less face-to-face conversation with patients, a greater administrative burden, and interrupted workflows.
Virtual assistants might be able to help, but physicians like Dr. Desai are understandably skeptical. Drawing on the power to surface data at the point of care through voice or text commands, virtual assistants hold the opportunity to aid patient encounters. For any point-of-care technology to work, however, the system must understand what clinicians need, not what anyone else thinks clinicians need.
But where to begin? Here are examples of the kinds of data that physicians need at the point of care and how that information could boost care delivery.
Start with Simple Data
Since Dr. Desai entered healthcare 20 years ago, he’s worked with too many overhyped technologies that fell short of expectations. It’s not that he’s tough to win over—it’s that the innovations either complicated an existing process or failed to understand his needs. What he and other physicians and clinicians really need is simplicity.
“If you can do anything, even if it’s a small thing, to save physicians time in their workflow, that will be huge,” he said.
Here are several data types that Dr. Desai and other clinicians said could benefit nearly every patient encounter:
- Lab results
- Medical history
- Family history
Imagine providing physicians the chance to quickly learn which medications a patient was prescribed? Or the results of their last electrocardiogram, mammogram, or chest X-ray? Knowledge of their parents’ medical histories or even whether a patient received a flu shot could help clinicians.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but that is very poignant and very relevant. It can really go a long way,” Dr. Desai said.
The Case for Customization
If doctors have access to every conceivable kind of data at the point of care, do they really have access to any data at all? It’s a valuable question because it gets at a point raised by Dr. Desai: Too much data can obscure the most critical data.
It’s not hard to overcome this challenge. The solution lies in ensuring that physicians and care teams have the opportunity to customize their point-of-care technologies to suit their needs. Only they know the precise information necessary for their daily workflows or a single patient encounter, Dr. Desai said. A primary care physician might not need data that a surgeon should have. Preferences can vary from one member of a health care team to the next, and they may well change depending on the context.
Health system administrators and technology experts can solve this problem before an implementation even goes live by including physicians and other clinicians early in the development or purchasing process. After all, Dr. Desai said, no one knows better than the doctors and nurses who are in the trenches.
Integrated, Interoperable Data
Interoperability and integration are integral to the right data reaching clinicians at the point of care. When health systems silo data by type, care teams stand less chance of accessing all of the information they might need.
That can be dangerous. A 2019 study, for instance, analyzed medical errors related to electronic health record use and found that some problems stemmed from data access issues. In one case, a primary care physician couldn’t access a patient’s radiology studies at the point of care, resulting in a delayed lung cancer diagnosis.2
When data isn’t accessible, care teams also have a harder time working together to treat patients. Interdisciplinary collaborative care models require the seamless exchange of relevant data, among physicians and patients alike.
“Let’s get the data, let’s interpret it together, and then use the technology to see what it says,” Dr. Desai said. “Let’s have clinicians guide patients through the best options for care and then let them make the decision together.”
Putting Clinicians First
Physicians like Dr. Desai want to have meaningful conversations with their patients, so they can develop the right treatment plan for each individual. Any technology that hampers that connection—and glues doctors to a computer screen—presents a threat. If voice-enabled virtual assistants can connect clinicians with the right data at the point of care, they could mitigate that risk.
“When you put the health care team first, everything flows from there,” Dr. Desai said. “If you have satisfied and well-taken-care-of health care teams that are energized and love what they do, and then you give them the resources and tools to be successful, then they will go the extra mile to take care of their patients.”
High-quality care and happy patients will produce the good metrics that every health system wants, from outcomes to admissions. But the journey starts with the right data at the point of care.
1. Homepage. MedFlashGo, https://medflashgo.com/. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.
2. “Electronic Health Record–Related Events in Medical Malpractice Claims.” Journal of Patient Safety, June 2019, https://journals.lww.com/journalpatientsafety/Fulltext/2019/06000/Electronic_Health_Record_Related_Events_in_Medical.1.aspx. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.