Is the tail wagging the dog? Should vendors decide what clinicians need? OR should the professional clinical colleges be driving the EHRs that members need to provide quality healthcare to their patients? From a quality point of view, one could strongly suggest that colleges should be the experts driving this new paradigm of clinical care. As a group, professional clinical colleges as a group usually state that one of their major roles is in establishing and driving the benchmarks for acceptable clinical practice standards in their field of expertise. Most do this very well in the traditional areas of clinical practice.
Scouring the web it is possible to see that some are engaging actively in eHealth. For example, from the website of The Council of the Royal College of Physicians in UK, a vision statement published in January 2010 incorporates this final paragraph:
"Effective implementation of standardised, structured, patient focused records requires strongly led culture change, embraced by all medical and clinical staff. They are essential prerequisites for safe, high quality care and for the safe, efficient and effective migration from paper to electronic patient records. Such records will also enable innovative development of services that cross traditional boundaries and, by giving patients access to their record, empower them to take more responsibility for their own care."
If colleges have had a traditional role in ensuring safe, high quality care, then the advent of electronic health information should logically trigger a natural extension of their pre-existing work and roles into the eHealth arena. I would go further and suggest that they should also be actively driving an eHealth agenda that reflects their college remit regarding provision of quality care and standards; ensuring that the data created, stored, shared and queried is good and fit for use in clinical care.
This agenda may, or may not, be aligned with the activities of national eHealth programs. As we look at the news in recent weeks it is becoming apparent that many are struggling with implementation of top-down agendas. We have seen major changes in the national approach to eHealth happening in Netherlands, Germany, and England's NHS. Perhaps it is time for a grassroots, bottom-up approach from the end-users, the healthcare providers, and their patients, the healthcare consumers.
How can colleges drive eHealth?
- Promote the establishment of a universal health record - a long-term, data-driven health record platform based upon open source specifications, a standardised health data structure, and application-independence. If we place the patient's universal health record at the focus, applications can effectively 'plug & play' with an open, standardised patient data repository, instead of struggling/battling to move/transform/migrate/map/message bits of health information between proprietary application silos.
- Develop clinical quality-related eHealth standards:
- Knowledge artefacts specifications The clinical knowledge expertise of colleges can be used not only to develop principles of best practice and clinical guidelines etc but also the structured clinical content specifications that underpin the universal health record and ensure that the health record is able to capture all the data that their clinicians need to provide quality clinical care, to share with other healthcare professionals and for research. These specifications need to be defined both at the clinical concept level, such as the specification for blood pressure, but also expressing how many clinical concepts can be aggregated together and constrained to specify the requirements for a computable discharge summary or an anaesthetic record. Ideally this would be work done in collaboration with other clinicians, colleges and informaticians to make sure that the agreed concept specifications are applicable for all colleges and clinical domains, so that there is one common concept in use for all. Colleges as domain experts are also best placed to determine the terminology subsets that are appropriate for use by their clinicians.
- EHR best practice: Develop principles around the best practice use of electronic health records, including:
- Data quality principles and activities. As health records become electronic, the previous remit of Colleges to make sure that clinical practices are accredited and that paper records are kept to a documented standard can be transformed to the eHealth paradigm. There are similar principles that can be developed and applied when clinicians are capturing and using data. Programs such as Primus Plus in the UK have worked directly with primary care clinicians to educate and support about best practice data management.
- EHR safety - User interfaces,clinical processes, decision support etc
Colleges may bundle these new standards-based eHealth activities within existing service provision to, or activities involving, their members.
In addition, commercially savvy colleges could develop ways to develop and sell practical solutions or packages around these quality principles direct to members – products or programs to make it easy for members to put the evidence-based and quality principles into practice.
Herein lies a challenge for contemporary professional clinical colleges – to both embrace eHealth and to actively drive it in a way that promotes and preserves safety, quality and best practice in healthcare, such that eHealth becomes a positive tool for healthcare provision and, possibly even, reform.
Time will tell if I'm on the right track. For me as a clinician, the more time I spend with it, the more compelling this openEHR story becomes...