For those of us who write and think about the future of healthcare, the story of rapid and systemic change rocking the healthcare system is a recurrent theme. We usually point to the regulatory environment as the source of change. Laws like the Affordable Care Act and the HITECH Act are such glaring disruptive forces, but what empowers these regulations to succeed? Perhaps the deepest cause of change affecting healthcare, and the most disruptive force, is the digitalization of our clinical records. As we continue to switch to electronic charts, this force of the vast data being collected becomes increasingly obvious. One-fifth of the world’s data is purported to be administrative and clinical medical records. Recording medical observations, lab results, diagnoses, and the orders that care professionals make in binary form is a game-changer.
Workflows are dramatically altered because caregivers spend so much of their time using the system to record clinical facts and must balance these record-keeping responsibilities with the more traditional bedside skills. They have access to more facts more easily than before, which allows them to make better judgments. The increasing ability of caregivers to see what their colleagues are doing, or have done, across institutional boundaries is allowing for better coordination of care. The use of clinical data for research into what works and what is efficient is becoming pervasive. This research is conducted by combining records from several institutions and having the quality committees of individual institutions look at the history of care within their institutions to enhance the ways in which they create the institutional standards of care. The data represents a vast resource of evidence that allows great innovation.