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The Future of Connected Health Care Systems

By Allen Abshire, Health IT Operations Director (@AllenKnowsHIE)

As I walk into my doctor’s office, I am immediately greeted by name and asked to have a seat for a few minutes, and as I do, my phone chimes to inform me of a request to authorize payment for my visit.

As I wait, I use my Blue Button patient portal to review my medical information – a nifty account that links my provider, pharmacy and hospital along with my biometric wearable device that tracks my heart, pulse rate, physical activity and sleep patterns – and make sure that everything is up-to-date, from my pharmacy fill data to the discharge instructions from my recent hospital stay.

After a short wait, the nurse calls my name, and I’m taken to an exam room where she places a blood pressure cuff on my arm and scans my forehead to obtain my temperature while the table on which I’m sitting records my weight. Using a tablet, she notes that the data from those devices has been accepted into my electronic health record, and then she mentions that a notification has been received that the C-CDA from my hospital visit is available along with the lab work requested by my doctor prior to my visit today. She inquires about any issues or concerns I may have related to my procedure, and adds the fact that I have none to my electronic chart.

When my doctor enters the exam room, he is already reviewing my information via his own tablet. We discuss the reason for my visit, and he carefully reviews my discharge instructions from the hospital to ensure that I understand and am following them. He mentions by name the medication that I was prescribed when discharged, and he asks about any side effects. He pulls up the results of my lab work and discusses them with me. Together, we use this information to develop a care plan specific to me, and he makes certain that I have no questions when I leave.

That night, as I discuss my doctor’s visit with my wife, she reminds me that I’d wanted to ask about a certain exercise plan and whether or not it’s safe for me to try it. Using my phone, I send a secure direct message to my doctor via the patient portal, and 20 minutes later, I have my answer.

Two days later, my doctor messages me to check on my progress, and I respond to let him know that the medication I was prescribed seems to be working fine, the exercise plan is going well and I’m following my care plan to the letter, and I schedule a follow-up visit in 30 days.

This is the kind of health care experience those of us in health IT are referring to when we talk about ‘connected health care systems,’ and that level of connectivity is undeniably the future of health care.

A connected health care system is one that’s connected no matter where services are received – hospital, clinic, physical therapy, pharmacy, wearable devices, the gym, et cetera – and it’s effortless for health care providers across the care continuum to access the information generated within those settings.

It’s a system in which patients are able – and encouraged – to submit their own information through patient portals, and their providers can see and use that information to improve their care.

It’s a system that allows patient to access their information via any device, phone, tablet or personal computer, at any time.

But is it a system of the future?

Not necessarily.

The technology is in place now, and I feel fairly confident in saying that the aforementioned health care experience is the norm for some patients.

Just not for all patients.

Not yet, anyway.

But we’re getting close.

The silos that prevented this level of connectivity in the past are gradually being broken down. Patients’ health information is increasingly becoming digitized, thanks to growing comfort levels with technology. Providers are becoming ever more innovative in their use of the tools now available.

The future of connected health care systems will simply be the industry-wide acceptance and implementation of health IT across health care settings and throughout the care continuum.

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