Last year I heard former president George W. Bush speak about his 2004 vision for healthcare, which included electronic health records centered around a single patient identifier. He provided a clear example for this vision that resonated with me. He asked us to imagine someone had been in a terrible accident. When the ambulance arrives, the EMT is able to scan the patient’s badge or code, and gain access to the patient’s entire health record. The patient might not be able to speak due to his situation, but all the information the EMT needs to know would be right there in front of him. While this was Bush’s vision over a decade ago and is still not a reality, it represents what the future of healthcare could be.
Although we’ve made momentous strides in recent years toward interoperability and improving EHRs, as an industry we still have much more to strive for when it comes to accessing patient data. Moving forward, we need to prioritize the ease of data access not only within health system care teams, but outside of connected organizations as well. Progress toward this endeavor won’t necessarily come from a device or a new technology – it will come from creating a single patient identifier that is recognized across all systems, regardless of location or affiliation.
Let’s say you have a patient who was in the hospital for 12 days and during the course of her stay, you discover she was allergic to five medications. When the patient leaves this setting and new clinicians care for her, there is no single system that they can use today to access all of her information. Clinicians usually have to rely on the patient and her family members to communicate that information to them – but in many cases, that just doesn’t happen.
A single patient identifier has the potential to create an entire world of functionality that will help solve many of today’s problems that make patient care and related communications extremely convoluted. Creating a system where each patient has their own unique code would mean that no matter which physician they visit or where each of their care team members is located, clinicians would be able to easily access any information they need about the patient in the blink of an eye. This type of knowledge sharing and streamlined efficiencies among the entire care team would result in better collaboration and care.
Wouldn’t it be great to no longer need to fill out a medical history form when we visit a new doctor? With a single patient identifier, our complete medical background would immediately pop up once our personal code is entered. Not only will this save patients time and frustration by not having to repeat themselves every time they see a specialist or new doctor, but it will allow clinicians to devote more time to patients themselves. Being able to access a complete medical record instantly and have that visit’s updates be immediately available to a primary care physician or others would improve care coordination and patient care, ultimately helping to reduce medical errors.
This game changer in the healthcare world will not happen overnight – it will be a gradual, collaborative process that will undoubtedly require a lot of cooperation by all stakeholders involved in providing care. There is a vast amount of data and information in various systems to sort through and take into account. In the meantime, healthcare organizations and clinicians should take advantage of the various innovations available today that help with care team collaboration—including secure communications solutions. When clinicians rally around each patient in an efficient and cost effective manner, patient care and collaboration will improve—and that benefits all of us.