Quality Information For Quality Healthcare

I promise not to provide another comment regarding the “Meaningful Use” of the electronic health record (EHR).  That’s because I strongly believe that health professionals should be more concerned about the meaningful use of the health information than of the EHR.

Patient health information comes from a multitude of sources – hospitals, physician offices, pharmacies, off-site laboratories, radiology facilities, long-term care facilities.  Therefore, instead of raising questions regarding the meaningful use of implemented EHRs, health professionals must raise other questions that need immediate answers, such as how will all this information be compiled? Who will be ultimately responsible for this information’s maintenance and storage?

More importantly, health professionals must find ways to achieve quality data in the EHR, because only with quality data can health professionals develop quality measurements and clinical quality indicators. For example, did the procedure shorten the length of the patient’s stay? Or, did the procedure cause the patient to have more doctors’ office visits at the end of the organization’s episode of care?  When such questions are answered and realized across the continuum of care can one implement the systems to capture and meaningfully use the information as well as produce better information for better decision-making.

One suggestion to accomplish this is to begin standardizing on terms, categories, and practices, at least within the organization.  An organization can get assistance from the National Quality Forum’s Healthcare Information Technology Expert Panel, which is directing its non-profit efforts on a next generation quality data set with a universal terminology for the design of quality measures.  Another suggestion is to vigilantly monitor the EHR’s common problems, including but not limited to user input errors, abuse of default settings, and abuse of the copy / paste function.

In my thirty year healthcare career, the first half debated whether or not quality could be defined.  The second half debated about whether or not quality could be measured.  I hope the debate now will focus on whether or not the information generated for quality purposes will be accurate.



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