Terry Edwards

Real-time healthcare: Preventing the need for immediacy from eroding quality

By Terry Edwards  /  25 Mar 2015

Our culture has shifted quickly to desire everything in real-time. We used to send a letter to a friend, but now we send a text or a tweet, expecting an answer in less than 60 seconds. The healthcare industry is not exempt from this culture shift, and, in fact, Gartner outlined a vision for what it has dubbed the “real-time healthcare system,” where healthcare professionals will be constantly aware of what’s happening within their systems and with their patients.

Mobility is part of this shift, of course. The smartphone has made us more plugged in than ever before. In addition to the convenience of mobility, we’re challenged with a constant flow of data from a host of different sources, with each call or text serving as an insistent notice to “pay attention to me!”

While “real-time” exchanges are extrememly beneficial to patient care, this massive influx of data can overload clinicians and make it difficult for them to focus on the relevant information they need. In order to break through this overload, healthcare professionals need to maintain situational awareness to identify, process, and comprehend critical elements of information based upon what’s happening right now so they can act quickly, appropriately and decisively.

I see three key elements necessary to enable situational awareness for effective clinical decision-making, so healthcare professionals can embrace the benefits of a real-time healthcare system:

First, it’s critical to synthesize clinical information. The investments we’ve made over the past five or six years as an industry to digitize existing clinical information or ‘knowledge’ is just beginning to be leveraged with analytics tools. The opportunity is to synthesize that information in real time to generate ‘new knowledge’ about a patient. In this way we’re using computers to offload cogitative work that previously would have required manual work by clinicians. It’s the only way we can make sense of all the data we’re creating and we need to make it digestible, relevant and pertinent at the point of care.

Second, once that new knowledge is made available and deemed relevant to a given clinical situation, we need to enable communication-driven workflows that drive that new knowledge to the right care team member who can take action. It is here that our information technologies need to better connect with our communications technologies. Or, what I like to refer to as plugging our ‘thinking machines’ into our ‘communication machines.’ This is the next generation of unified communications. It must encompass all modalities, be secure, workflow based and facilitate highly-reliable communication processes among clinicians across boundaries, i.e., acute, pre- and post-acute care settings.

Lastly, the personal judgment of experienced healthcare professionals is irreplaceable in effective, real-time decision-making. This is often overlooked as we look first to technology, but this final element of comprehension – the training, judgment and experience of people – is key in the decision-making process. While technology advances are improving healthcare, human intuition can never be replaced by a machine or software. However, machines that create new knowledge by synthesize information and present it to the right clinician at the right moment in time can enable clinicians to apply their judgment at a higher cognitive level.

Healthcare colleagues – how are you preparing for the real-time healthcare system? What tools are you using to prevent and respond to a data tsunami?

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