Don’t Blink! Today’s Electronic Patient Record Systems are Tomorrow’s Horse-and-Buggies

By Peggy Salvatore

Given the geometric pace of change, the electronic health record systems of today are horse-and-buggies rapidly in the making. The pace of recent change means that your typical EHR will not experience obsolescence from the amount of time it took to invent the horse to the time it took to invent the horseless carriage – which is a few millennia.

Actually, EHRs are horse-and-buggies in the making from the time of the launch of HITECH in 2010 to the discovery that Meaningful Use cannot be implemented along any timeline because it has become obsolete before it hit its deadlines.

Wearable technology is galloping way ahead of the pace of regulation, and its uptake is rapid. Fitbit was the big Christmas (or Hannukah /Festivus/Winter Solstice) gift this year. A friend is monitored 24/7 after cardio ablation surgery last week. Her doc can see every beat of her heart. If your healthcare provider’s electronic patient system isn’t recording all this information to learn about you and the state of your health, it is already obsolete.

One of my favorite books, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler circa 1970, chronicled some of the early intelligence on the pace of technological change and its effect on society. Fast forward, four decades. I spent part of this holiday break reading MONEY Master the Game by leadership guru Tony Robbins who dedicated a chapter to the incredible future of medicine and technology – and he pointed out that “The Future is Brighter Than You Think”.

When Toffler wrote the first edition of his classic book, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were two college-aged geeks who hadn’t yet met. Fast forward 2014, and here are passages from Robbins’ book about the state of technology today:

There’s…a “bio-pen” that allows surgeons to draw healthy cells on layers of bone and cartilage. The cells multiply and grow into nerves, muscle, and bones, healing the damaged section. The technology allows the surgeon to place cells wherever he or she wants them, in an instant.

When (Easton LaChapelle) was 14, he decided to build his own robotic hand. Hey, why not? …he scoured websites like Instructables and Hack It! to teach himself electronics, programming, and mechanics. Then he used objects he had lying around – Legos, fishing line, electronic tape, small hobby motors, and a Nintendo Power Glove – to build a prototype. By the time he was 16, he had refined his design by getting access to a 3D printer and creating a mechanical hand out of layers of plastic…he met a seven-year-old girl with a prosthetic arm that cost her parents $80,000….So what do you think his new invention costs to make as opposed to the $80,000 limb…How about $250!

3D “printers” are actually minifactories that use computer files as blueprints to create three-dimensional object layer by layer. The printers can use at least 200 different liquefied or powdered materials, including plastic, glass, ceramic, titanium, nylon, chocolate – and even living cells. What can you make with them?…human tracheas, ears and teeth.
So, while we’re trying to get electronic health record systems to talk to each other from one healthcare provider’s location to another, inventors and even patients themselves are not waiting around to see how that works out.

Why are these stories important in a book about money? Quite simply, Robbins points out that as technology advances and proliferates at head-spinning speed, the costs of technological advances are coming down and the possibilities are growing geometrically.

By extension, while we fret about the cost of healthcare, the definition of healthcare is changing and the cost of the technology to achieve previously unimaginable levels of healing and wellness are dropping from unattainable to pennies a day.

By the time we get interoperability according to the regulations set forth by CMS, the definition of interoperability will most definitely have changed. And that, for my money, is a good thing.


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