Physicians need IT to succeed in consumer-driven healthcare environment

By Richard Pizzi
12:00 AM

Healthcare in the 21st century will be driven increasingly by consumerism, and healthcare professionals will need to adopt IT tools if they are to practice effectively in this new environment, said the Cleveland Clinic’s chief information officer Wednesday morning.

C. Martin Harris, MD, Cleveland Clinic CIO and executive director of eCleveland Clinic, told online attendees at the HIMSS Virtual Conference & Expo that healthcare has “lagged behind” other industries in implementing technology that allows consumers to get more involved in their care. He warned that if the problem was not remedied, physicians could lose business.

“The pressure to deliver innovative services will come to bear on providers, and it will come from consumers,” said Harris. “Providers have to be prepared for the coming wave of consumerism in healthcare.”

Harris said that the “sheer volume” of healthcare information has expanded dramatically over the past few years, and that patients have access to this data directly via the Internet. He noted that last year alone, the results of more than 10,000 randomized controlled medical trials were published, and patients at home could gain access to them if they so desired.

“We have to better understand what kind of medical information patients and consumers can acquire, and then we can tailor our services to meet their needs,” Harris said.

The Cleveland Clinic has expanded its IT offerings dramatically in recent years. The 1,500-physician practice cares for over 5 million patients at multiple “family health centers” and community hospitals in Ohio, and the Clinic’s leadership felt it was necessary to integrate the numerous care sites with the main clinic in downtown Cleveland.

Harris and his colleagues developed the eCleveland Clinic, what he calls an “e-extension” of the practice’s clinical programs for patients after they leave the office or the hospital bed. He said that the Cleveland Clinic hoped to “e-enable” the relationship between patients and providers by eliminating geographical barriers to communication.

“At the core of our enterprise is the electronic medical record,” Harris said. “But for us the definition of an EMR is a tool that is used by everyone involved in the patient care process, not only the physician. And we have also integrated a personal health record into the EMR.”

The eCleveland Clinic MyChart PHR offers patients “24/7” access to their medical record, “the same record the physician sees,” according to Harris. In addition to reviewing medical information and requesting prescription renewals, patients can use the MyChart PHR to “track their health” using data-entry flowsheets. For instance, patients with diabetes can track blood glucose measurements.

Harris said that MyChart, along with an online medical “second opinion” service called MyConsult and “Virtual Visit” technology that allows for remote physical exams, has abetted the Clinic’s “transformation process” into 21st century medicine.

He acknowledged that concerns about reimbursement present a “great challenge” in promoting broad adoption of healthcare IT among physicians. But he said it was likely inevitable that major payers – including the federal government – would align payment with the use of IT and documented quality of care improvements.

“I believe that these kinds of tools will be required of physician practices in a consumer-driven healthcare system,” said Harris. “We have to learn to be creative and innovative in delivering medical care to patients when and where they need it.”