When our colleagues get excited about the possibilities of using telemedicine to streamline and improve the ways they care for patients, one of the first questions they ask is:
"Can I integrate an EMR with telemedicine?"
The short answer is yes.
It is 100% functional, 100% efficient, and 100% HIPAA-compliant to integrate any EMR with any telemedicine system simply by cross-referencing the EMR in the telemedicine system; or by cross-referencing the telemedicine consult in the EMR. We, and dozens of our ClickCare users, have found this to be a simple, low-tech way of effectively integrating the two platforms.
However, if a provider perceives that they must have an automatic, high-tech way of integrating the two platforms, then the answer becomes trickier. Here's why:
Medicine becomes more standardized, regulated, and homogenized every day. When I started practicing, I used to accept eggs from backyard chickens, or the promise of a refresh on my housepaint, as payment from folks without insurance.
As the years went on, it became disallowed for me to take payment in this way… and the expectation of all providers working in exactly the same way became status quo. Some standardization is good, and protects us in crucial ways, but I think we all have a sense that the baby (of creative and passionate medical care) often gets thrown out with the bathwater (of mistakes and inefficiency.) I see this kind of standardization is the way offices are laid out, "tips" on how to greet patients, and rule after rule about managing charts and records.
Another place I see this is in the ways that EMRs seem to be running healthcare providers, rather than the other way around. The EMR market is extremely competitive, with 4,800 different EMRs on the market in 2013. That competition means that EMR providers have an incentive to "edge out competitors" by advocating for extreme integration. It's like going to the salon, getting a great cut, and then hearing from the salon owner that in order to maintain the cut, you need shampoo, conditioner, and gel that cost $180 and all happen to be from their salon brand. EMRs have an incentive for telling you that all technology you use has to be provided by them.
EMRs and EHRs are fantastic for storing patient information and making it available when we all need it. But telemedicine is not primarily for the storage of information. Telemedicine is for collaboration, problem-solving, teaching, and communication. So consider ignoring the EMR/EHR manufacturer when they say that absolutely everything has to come from them. Use a telemedicine tool that works for you, in the way that works for you, and cross-reference to the EMR/EHR.
We may not be able to "fix" medicine, but each of us can fix the way we interact with the tools available to us, making our lives as providers happier, and the care for our patients better.
Curious about telemedicine options? Get our quick guide:
Image courtesy of juhansonin on flickr.com, used under Creative Commons rights.