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EHR Vendors Talk COVID-19 Lessons Learned, Health IT Future

Leaders from Epic Systems, Cerner, and MEDITECH led a keynote discussion about how COVID-19 impacted health IT and how it will look moving forward.

The most prominent EHR and health IT leaders across the country said a crisis, such as COVID-19, accelerated trends that were already playing out, ultimately leading to improved patient care.

“I was in Washington DC on September 11, 2001, and what I see playing out on provider healthcare right now is similar to what we saw with the transportation sector coming out of September 11th,” Don Trigg, president of Cerner, said during the CHIME21 Spring Forum opening keynote.

“Provider organizations have shone brightly over the last 12 months and I think they are seen as a critical infrastructure for how we define and think about the supply side.”

On Wednesday, Trigg joined CEO and founder of Epic Systems, Judy Faulkner, and MEDITECH CEO, Howard Messing, on the opening keynote panel, hosted by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), to talk about what they learned about health IT during COVID-19 and what’s next for health IT and healthcare.

The Cerner president noted how telehealth use was trending upward before COVID-19, but the deadly spread of the pandemic forced health systems to adopt and integrate the solution rapidly. All three executives added that telehealth and virtual visits would likely remain a popular patient option post-pandemic.

Faulkner applauded how the healthcare sector worked together since last March.

“I’ve been mostly impressed how everything worked together well like a choreography,” Faulkner said. “Pharma creating the vaccine in record time, the government buying them, the EHR companies helping the providers, and of course, the providers in the front line.”

On the other hand, the pandemic proved the need for vaccine record digitation. Messing witnessed this specific issue during his COVID-19 vaccination last week in Boston.

"I had my vaccination a few weeks ago and it was at a card table, next to a hot dog stand in Fenway Park, with no computer in sight,” Messing described. “Clearly, we’ve got to figure out how to do this better. We can’t rely on paper records anymore.”

Healthcare stakeholders have to enhance and modernize public health reporting infrastructure because paper cards are not ideal for record-keeping and interoperability, Messing added.

Before the pandemic, Faulkner joked how she thought each state primarily differed on geography and food choice. She never thought it would be public health and state regulations that defined states, sje said.

She also noted that smartphone access and broadband influenced state success at vaccine registration.

“We need to focus on the medical divide,” Faulker said.

Messing detailed a situation where a family member asked him why he could withdraw money from anywhere in the world, but he could not easily retrieve his medical record.

“We have the most complicated database in any industry,” Messing explained.

“We have many different data types, more than any database, and more than one could ever imagine,” the MEDITECH CEO continued. “Each of those data types has different algorithms and we have to keep it around indefinitely. As standards change, we have to deal with that and we can’t throw it out. Technology changes but we have to write software that has to last for at least a decade.”

Although Faulker was vocal against sections of the interoperability rule, she said the new regulations should improve patient access to their health records, and data standardization efforts should make that information more helpful.

"Patients want access to their data whenever they desire it, and they want the health system to take care of it for them,” Faulkner explained. “They don’t want to manage it themselves, but they want access to it.”

Looking forward, Trigg said payers and providers would likely trend toward a payer-provider union after experiencing payment model shifts.

"We'll see a new value equation around the person, focused on cost and convenience and experience," Trigg said. "We also have to think a great deal about the governmental role and policy now with Washington as the largest regulator and largest payer."

Faulkner also anticipates increased genomic data EHR integration to enhance clinical decision-making.

"There will be more research on that data and then feeding that research back to the clinicians so that evidence-based medicine can go from 10 percent available to 90 percent available at the moment the doctor needs it," Faulkner explained.

Healthcare stakeholders, with the help of health IT companies, must rebuild patient trust after what COVID-19 brought upon US citizens, Messing said.

"It's really clear there is mistrust in the healthcare system,” Messing noted. “Some will say it's because of politics, but there was underlying mistrust there."

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