By Simon Wieczner, President & CEO, Snowbound Software
This September marked the ninth year of National Health IT Week, and it’s no secret that over the course of nearly a decade, healthcare technology has seen some major advances. Over the past couple of years in particular the bar for moving to electronic health records (EHR) has been raised for hospitals, patient care facilities and practitioners alike. For example, the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs provide financial incentives for the meaningful use of EHR technology to improve patient care. To receive an EHR incentive, providers have to show that they are meaningfully using their EHRs by meeting thresholds for a number of objectives.
In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included new legislation in the form of HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health). In addition, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) less than a year later in March 2011. Within the law is a section that states that hospitals with excessive readmissions will see reduced Medicare payments. While both HITECH and ACA will improve healthcare long term, they also pose some significant technical challenges for all involved.
To meet these impending requirements, healthcare organizations have had to update their technology, and fast. According to a report from Markets and Media, Meaningful Use regulations are a key factor contributing to the rapid growth of the health IT market, which the firm predicts will reach more than $31 billion by 2017. However, with new technology often comes integration challenges. The Holy Grail is to get all patient records in the same repository and accessed by the same tools. The healthcare industry has always been rife with documents from a variety of sources, which has been a critical problem, and this has only increased with EHRs and other technology innovations. Though repositories are generally document type agnostic, viewers and editing tools do not always work with every document. Herein lies the challenge.
The typical phases of the document lifecycle involve capturing the document, viewing it digitally, processing it and then archiving the information—all of which can benefit from software investments that make the process easier while increasing efficiency and reducing handling costs. However, in order to be effective, it’s important that healthcare organizations integrate the right document viewing and conversions technologies to meet their varied needs.
Technology is at the Core
The most apparent benefit of appropriate document viewing technology in healthcare is the speed of access and ease-of-use it provides physicians, nurses and even pharmacists. For one, it can eliminate deliverability issues with EHRs that might be stored on differing computer systems.
Selecting the right viewer and review technology will allow organizations to avoid user installation pains and support costs by using a browser-based, HTML5 document viewer. This kind of technology will eliminate the need to download and install cumbersome updates to end-users. A pure “zero footprint” HTML5 document viewer makes documents and images viewable using only a common web browser regardless of operating system or device.
The ability to text search and annotate documents are other essential components for healthcare professionals looking to quickly access and amend critical information. Today’s document viewing technology provides such features, allowing users to efficiently navigate through text-based documents and display only pages with relevant, matching results. For example, a doctor can scan medical records to discover what medications a patient was using at a particular time or check if a patient has ever received a certain type of vaccination, all by typing in a few keywords or phrases.
A Whole New View on Patient Engagement
Meaningful Use has brought with it the creation of patient portals: secure websites that give patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information. Typically, health records and related forms are scanned by the hospital and then posted as a set of documents to the patient portal. The formats of these documents can be wide-ranging, such as hand-written notes saved as TIFF files or EHRs in the form of a PDF or Word document. In light of these varied formats, embedding a zero footprint document viewer into a patient portal can go a long way in increasing engagement and encouraging patients to frequently engage with the website.
With a pure HTML document viewer located in a browser, a patient is able to view EHRs, prescriptions, instructions, and more from any platform or device regardless of their format. Plus, with innovative new features that download only the relevant portions of a document, accessing such information from a patient portal is no longer a burden. If patients have access to discharge instructions and educational tools, they are less likely to return to the hospital.
In the grand scheme of federal initiatives like HITECH and ACA, document viewers are a very small piece of the puzzle, but a vital component to improving patient engagement and physician communication. While still in its infancy when compared to electronic banking or online bill pay, EHR systems and patient portals cannot be utilized to their full potential without comprehensive document support and easy to use viewing technology. It is an exciting time for document management in the healthcare space, and it will be interesting to watch how this technology helps further improve patient care in years to come.