For the last decade, or so it seems, in my professional technology life, we have been talking about the holy grail of interoperability. So, what on earth does that mean? I’m basically a non-techie and my understanding of interoperability is that we can send information around the system, from one place to another, and when it sets off it doesn’t lose any meaning as its transferred and arrives with its meaning intact. In other words, the information is available and understood by the person that receives it and this is as the sender intended. Standards are key to making this happen and at last this is starting to happen. Have a look at the PRSB and Interopen.
Wow, I mean that means we can share information using standards and free up information that have traditionally been effectively locked behind electronic walls.
Freeing up information to flow around the system comes with some issues and in our endeavours to make it flow I am not sure we have thought through some of the consequences of all this data arriving at the point of care, in a multi-professional context, that centres around the care of an individual person.
Back in the olden days, when I was a ward sister and subsequently investigating complaints, I was often faced with large piles of paper notes about an individual patient. They were hard to plough through. There were some tricks that everyone used to use to get to the essence of what had been happening to a patient. At the back of the notes there were, usually in reverse date order, a set of correspondence between different doctors; an admission referral, a discharge summary, letters from clinic and so it went on. That’s where you started to get the best picture, a timeline, of what had been going on.
I know that we are working on standards that provide similar summaries of episodes of care which is brilliant. They will provide a much-needed way of navigating a person’s care in a timeline.
The challenge comes for those areas and professions who may be less practiced and used to summarisation; nursing for example.
There is a risk that all this machine processable information will flow into records (maybe alongside information sent by patients too) and we won’t be able to see the wood for the trees! Imagine if you had to review every piece of information in one of those fat sets of paper notes and you were on a busy MAU. It will be like the quote from Mitchell Kapor: ‘Getting information of the internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant’. How will we ever know what is important and what can be left?
Some professionals already have solved this problem or at least started to do so. GPs, the most experienced Health Care Professionals in using electronic records, already understand the value of summaries and lists but these operate in one environment only.
How are we going to prevent this information that will be flowing around systems becoming overwhelming? How will we make it so that clinical staff do not feel the need to review every piece of information? Where will we stand if we fail to review once piece of information amongst the many?
It seems to me that we might need to think about a longitudinal record for a citizen and stop seeing records as a patchwork of systems connected by standards. If we fail to summarise, to prioritise, and to recognise that everyone can’t read everything, how are we going to sort out the most useful information from the most mundane? How can machine processing help us (or can it)? How will we share the piles of data across all the professions?
What I do know is that this affects the way nurses and probably others need to think about the way we keep records. If we don’t we will drown in a deluge of electronic information and potentially be no better off than we are today.
Perhaps we can just let the citizen take responsibility for the timeline? But that probably won’t work for everyone.
What do you think? Have I got this all wrong?