Someday, the opening speaker at the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual meeting will not say that this is the best year ever for health information technology. But not this year.
“What a fabulous time it is to be working in health IT,” said Scott MacLean, chairman of the board for HIMSS exclaimed as he opened the world’s largest annual meeting on health IT – with an estimated 37,000 delegates and 1200 vendors in attendance.
MacLean is speaking to the converted, and the boosterism rampant at the meeting makes it difficult not to turn a jaundiced, journalistic eye to the proceedings. This meeting is filled to the rafters (or, in the case of the kilometre-long Orange County Convention Center – skylights) with either those who truly believe health IT is going to transform the health care system or those who want to sell something to the former.
Too few speakers echo American Medical Association president-elect Dr. Robert Wah who spoke to a physician symposium yesterday and stressed that health IT is just a tool and a means to an end.
Electronic health records, mobile health tracking devices, patient portals and the like have been transformed into a pantheon of icons that will benignly change the wasteful and expensive U.S. health care system into vision of efficiency and positive health outcomes. And the latest addition to the pantheon is patient engagement through digital means.
Few would deny that patient engagement is a good thing especially since it no longer means just ensuring that patients do what doctors tell them to do. But stating that patients will be intimately involved in decisions about their own care, will have access all of their own medical records, and will even be involved in developing health care systems is one thing. Operationalizing this is quite another.
Dave deBronkart (aka e-PatientDave) told an audience yesterday that while the majority of patients will discover errors in their own records when the evaluate them, there are few mechanisms or resources in place for doctors’ offices to correct those records.
And deBronkart’s physician Dr. Daniel Sands, who has been integral in nourishing the engaged patient movement, noted at the same seminar that many physicians are unprepared for the impact truly engaged patients will have on their workflow.
While patient engagement may truly lead to more efficiencies by saving some steps in the patient visit, it is not means certain such engagement is going to lower system costs.
To quote another of yesterday’s speakers Christine Bechtel, quoting Leondard Kish, patient engagement may well be “the blockbuster drug of the century.” But surely as with too many other blockbuster drugs in recent years, it is being put into widespread use with insufficient randomized controlled trials and little monitoring of adverse events.