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Is IT Innovation Driving Physicians Out The Door?

Recent health IT initiatives are forcing many frustrated clinicians to take early retirement. IT leaders need to realize that our national treasure is becoming an endangered species.
Innovation by itself does not ensure success. Installment of innovative technology is happening at a dizzying pace. More important is the ability to scale innovation, blending creativity with the self-discipline to stay focused on the IT features that foster patient safety and quality care. My message to clinicians is straightforward: Don't end your practice prematurely because you fear the unknown, and don't be afraid to speak to your peers or reach out to us on the IT side. Most likely the physician you're speaking to has the same questions and feels the same uncertainty and confusion about the future that you do. If a doctor in solo practice is considering retiring within the next 3 to 5 years, investing in a full-blown EMR for his or her private practice may not be the best choice. There are other options available. Is he considering an EHR but not sure how to start looking, or what to ask vendors? Is she wondering what bells and whistles are really important, so the practice can get real value rather than waste time with unimportant "wow" features?

Huntington Hospital works with physicians in our community by implementing a variety of services, resources, and technology designed to leverage a practice's technology investments. We have also started upgrading our own hospital electronic medical record to improve quality, outcomes, efficiencies, and cost of care, and to better integrate with Huntington Health eConnect.

We provide educational tools that address the questions physicians should be asking. We also provide software they can use today as a transition to a full-blown EMR, helping them to improve patient outcomes and efficiencies. Two examples are HuntingtonRx, which provides medication history, electronic prescribing, and medication contraindications; and Huntington Health eConnect, which offers a physician portal, an in-box for patients' clinical results, secure communications with other physicians, and community virtual patient record combining inpatient and outpatient care. Clinicians don't need an electronic medical record to electronically receive their patients' results via Huntington Health eConnect or to e-prescribe using HuntingtonRx.

Adopting technology for their practices doesn't have to be a heroic investigational treatment. Physicians can expect to see well-documented improvements to outcomes, practice expenses, and efficiencies, if they adopt the right technology for the right reasons, in the right way, and at the right time.

Just as physicians don't expect patients to face health issues alone, our hospital is there so physicians don't have to face healthcare's "perfect storm" alone. We encourage physicians to resist their "fight or flight" impulses with the same attitude and strength they ask and expect of their patients.

The Right Information, Right Time, Right Device

Our staff works with physicians and other caregivers to help figure out when and how to use tablets and other mobile devices to view and document information supporting patient care; we perform readiness assessments of their practice. And as we implement new inpatient electronic medical records, we work closely with physicians to ensure we have the best workflow and thought-flow to improve patient care, cost, and efficiencies.

Whether they're viewing or moving information from a private practice EMR to an outpatient imaging center, reference lab station, cardiac cath lab, inpatient surgery, outpatient rehab, or home care, our community patient record enables all clinicians to be engaged with and to collaborate with other caregivers, regardless of their technological capabilities. Even with multiple vendors involved, technology has progressed to support patient care workflow. But it takes discipline and physician engagement to determine the best workflows. We shouldn't place the burden of figuring it out only on physicians. Together, our clinicians see 11,000 patients a day--10,000 in private physician offices in our community. If we can convince each one of our physicians to stay in practice just one more day, in that one day 10,000 lives in our community will be touched, treated, and healed. Could the next Da Vinci or Einstein be among them?

Don't let your IT transformation cause physicians to "go quietly into the night," or you may find your organization transformed completely out of doctors.

Rebecca Armato is executive director, physician & interoperability services at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California.

InformationWeek Healthcare brought together eight top IT execs to discuss BYOD, Meaningful Use, accountable care, and other contentious issues. Also in the new, all-digital CIO Roundtable issue: Why use IT systems to help cut medical costs if physicians ignore the cost of the care they provide? (Free with registration.)