The emergence of the digital age in healthcare, dating back to the mid to later years of the 20th century, was not greeted with joy and accolades but rather a great deal of skepticism. That all changed in the 21st century. Over the past two decades, the broader digital revolution dramatically changed how we work and play. It also impacted healthcare. And the infusion of federal dollars through the 2009 HITECH Act to fund EHRs further accelerated the use of healthcare IT. This healthcare digital age accelerated medical research, created innovative therapeutic pathways, and fostered patient engagement. Our response to the pandemic best illustrates this – developing a model vaccine in two weeks using the gene sequencing of the SarsCoV2 virus and distributing a safe and effective vaccine using messenger RNA less than a year later.
Today, as artificial intelligence technology becomes more accessible to non-technical users, physicians are beginning to incorporate AI in their treatment of patients. We now have an entire software industry explicitly dedicated to healthcare, exemplified by the size of the exhibit floor at the recent HIMSS conference in Chicago.
While clinicians and healthcare IT people have collaborated more closely, we have much more work to do. Yes, healthcare IT is a servant of the clinician, helping them make better decisions to achieve better outcomes. Yes, doctors have a level of knowledge unsurpassed. The challenge is deploying the healthcare IT resources to fit the clinician’s needs and gain the most significant impact with the least disruption to the clinicians and the delivery of clinical care. Physician dissatisfaction and burnout associated with using EHRs prove we have much work to do. Healthcare IT can become an instrumental partner in reshaping 21st-century healthcare. In so doing, it will find new opportunities, challenges, and successes for its efforts.
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