The Key is Collaboration

Medicine, like most human endeavors, is all about collaboration. The EHR is one tool currently being touted as a way to aid collaboration by making patient data more accessible. But how does the data benefit a patient if the right specialist isn’t available to use it to guide care? EHR technology and data management are helpful only when they speed and simplify the collaborative process.

To illustrate the point, let’s take an example from the movie business. There’s a process called “looping” in movie post-production. It’s a way to add dialogue after the film has been shot. Thanks to technology, a movie director in Los Angeles can communicate with an actor in New York and a sound editor in Chicago. They watch a scene together, and the actor adds dialogue that might have gotten muddied during filming. It’s a perfect example of long-distance collaboration aided by technology.

But that type of seamless collaboration is in short supply in modern medicine, according to Ken Congdon, editor-in-chief of Healthcare Technology Online. In a recent article, he notes that the U.S. has spent some $32 billion on EHR technology, but has done little to solve an underlying problem: shortages (and uneven distribution) of health professionals. Congdon’s point is that the finest EHR system in the world achieves nothing if it doesn’t bring health professionals closer together in genuine collaboration.
Without universal access to specialists, for instance, a gap in care still exists.

This is particularly true in America’s emergency departments – and not just in remote places like Coldfoot, Alaska. In a recent survey of California hospital CEOs, more than
half are finding it difficult to obtain enough on-call specialists to meet the state’s legal requirements.

That’s why Congdon is so enthusiastic about the benefits of teleconsultations, which let ED professionals and on-call specialists transcend the most daunting geographic and financial barriers. An ED at a small critical access hospital in Idaho, for example, might find it difficult and costly to attract a full-time, on-call neurologist. Why should it have to shoulder that burden, when its physicians could speedily collaborate with a top-quality neurologist who happens to be in Boston?

Teleconsultations make sense financially and they’re achieving better outcomes as well. In one study reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, teleconsultations reduced ICU deaths by 20% and shortened the average length of stay in the ICU by more than a day.

In a wide range of industries, tele-collaboration is crucial to success. If Steven Spielberg can collaborate long-distance with his colleagues to improve something as non-essential as a movie, why shouldn’t the medical community start doing the same to close existing gaps in care and better our nation’s health?