At first glance, it can often seem that our healthcare system is broken. Countless companies and thought leaders talk about overhauling the entire system. Costs are rising, interoperability is lacking, and quality needs to be improved across the board.
The key is that these advances took time. Healthcare isn’t necessarily broken, but it is very slow. Embracing and creating new technology is a major part of advancing any industry. And as we use technology to solve healthcare’s biggest challenges, it’s important keep the reality of the pace in mind.
As with any major industry, innovating at a larger scale can be a challenge. Many health professionals still use pagers to communicate and fax machines to share medical information. Meanwhile, patients expect that healthcare be as connected and tech-savvy as the world around them.
Technology innovations in healthcare move slowly, and with good reason. With real lives on the line, technology and tools used in healthcare delivery have to be tested, retested and checked again before being deemed safe to use industry-wide. Rolling them out is also a challenge, as new technology by nature breaks the existing workflows of busy, stretched healthcare professionals that have limited time to learn new processes.
Take for example medical records—a game-changer in healthcare. The first EMR was technically developed by the Regenstreif Institute in 1972, but didn’t catch on with physicians and practitioners due to high costs and lack of understanding. The introduction of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Institute of Medicine’s charge to doctors to use computers in the ’90s made the idea of EMRs more digestible, but still not ubiquitous.
Expansion of software and data storage capabilities throughout the 2000s made the digital storing of every patient’s medical history more of a reality. And in the past decade, government efforts have pushed the remaining providers toward full EMR/EHR adoption. In 2015, 96% of hospitals reported using certified EHR technology, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
The “diffusion of innovation” of EHRs in healthcare demonstrates that new healthcare technologies, like other innovations, take time to spread throughout the industry, but are worth the uphill climb. The 40-year push for EMRs has paved the way for even greater technology that would not have been possible without digitized patient information. With EHRs nearly at full-use across the industry, the massive amounts of data have allowed for deep analytics and real-time data to help providers keep track of and efficiently manage patient populations for better outcomes.
In healthcare technology, innovation builds on the success of what already exists. When it comes to “fixing” healthcare, it’s the incremental, yet monumental changes that will get us to where we want to be.