A person is using a laptop with a stethoscope on it.

Securing the Digital Record

Recently, I was chatting with a group of colleagues – we were all complaining about doctors and waiting rooms, etc. During the conversation, I mentioned something that I thought was pretty interesting. Being over 40 and blonde hair/blue eyed, AND having spent my teens and 20s soaking up the sun, I’m basically putting my dermatologist’s children through Harvard Medical School. Over the years, she always came in with my (thick) file, made new notes based on the current visit, did her thing, then told me to come back in four months for a repeat. About three years ago, things changed. She came in with an iPad running specialty software on it for her field. And man, during the 20 minute appointment, she was uttering words that I’d never heard come from her, expressing major frustration in this new-fangled contraption she was being forced to use. Being pro-software, I casually mentioned some of the advantages of using a tablet instead of handwriting notes – and got the stink eye. So I shut up. The next two visits, the comments were still there, directed at this darned iPad, but then, about a year ago, she came in with a smile, pulled me up on the tablet, and started checking my face/arms/shoulders, marking off information on the tablet. I asked her how she was doing with it, and got five minutes of raving fandom….how much time it was saving her, how much more accurate the data is, how great it is to do lookups on issues she hadn’t encountered before, and how easy it is to review patient information.

So what happened? Doctors (like most of us) HATE change. But over the last few years, change happened. New standards emerged to drive the digitization of patient data, as well as use of that data in a secure, compliant manner.  Why is this important? 

Well, imagine that you got back from Nigeria on a business trip in 2012. About a week later, you start to feel tired, are running a fever, have a headache, and maybe a sore throat. You go to your doc, who says you have the flu, gives you something to make you feel better, and sends you home.

Fast forward to today (pre-COVID) – you go to your doc, who enters your signs and symptoms into her tablet, notes that you just got back from that business trip, and immediately quarantines you, as it’s likely that you have Ebola. She also alerts the appropriate agencies who can now monitor data from other healthcare agencies in the immediate area to note any trends in those signs/symptoms.

Data. Data is king in healthcare, and in the above case, would have likely saved your life. The ability to securely exchange healthcare data while protecting patient privacy is complex, but necessary as the healthcare industry embraces digital transformation. And health data is growing exponentially. If you use a Fitbit, Apple Watch, Nike Watch, and Samsung Watch, those wearables are gathering information on you every day. Insurance carriers and employers often provide incentive programs for hitting daily goals on those devices. With secured access to that data, they can examine wellness trends, patient dashboards, and even adjust plans based on the gathered data. New communities, such as The Advisory Board Company, have emerged to facilitate the sharing and analytics of large scale health data, using a hardened API Management solution to provide the ability to interact securely with government agencies and carriers (crucial in the Ebola sample above).

As these exchanges proliferate, what we can expect to see is the ability to react quickly to new health threats, but also new efficiencies in healthcare. Waste exists within three domains of the healthcare system: clinical care, healthcare finance and administration, and drug and device development and regulation. With the ability to utilize healthcare digital data, securely, on a national or international scale, it’s easy to see how both clinical care and healthcare finance and administration can be improved. And with data modeling, it’s equally easy to see how drug and device development can be improved, especially as they integrate with wearables (imagine your Fitbit providing the necessary data to your diabetes clinic so that they can adjust your insulin levels real time).

And in this new COVID world – with the variants continuing to morph – having these exchanges is crucial in the deployment of healthcare workers, emergency equipment, and development of vaccine updates.

Looping back – the story I shared to my colleagues drove other similar stories to be shared. It seems that the healthcare industry, whether they like it or not, has also been confronted with digital disruption, and has chosen in mass to transform to meet the realities of mobile computing. And our healthcare and wellness are better for it.