Stories about: EHRs

Under the hood of healthcare innovation: Gajen Sunthara and leveraging EHRs

Gajen Sunthara
(Photo: Greg Weintraub)

What does it take to be an innovator changing our healthcare system for the better? This two-part series profiles two digital health innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital who were named among MedTech Boston’s 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators for 2017.

Gajen Sunthara, MSc, has two innovation passions: healthcare policy and electronic health records (EHRs). With professional experiences spanning technology, business and government, he finds himself in a position to effect change in a way that few others can.

“Gajen’s passion for healthcare is evident from the moment that you meet him,” says Farhanah Sheets, a software engineer at Boston Children’s Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA) who reports to Sunthara. “No matter how big or small the idea, he brings a level of excitement to each project that is contagious.”

As director of Innovation R&D for IDHA, Sunthara is leading significant efforts around EHR interoperability — the ability of healthcare information systems to exchange and use each other’s data. He’s also focused on creating applications that can easily be integrated into any EHR system.

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Ebola in the U.S.: Can EHRs help connect the dots between public health and clinical practice?

Dallas map Ebola electronic health records
(Google Maps)

The Ebola situation in Dallas—with one patient death, two nurse exposures, dozens under quarantine, and talk last week of declaring a state of emergency in the city—has thrown into stark relief the gaps between public health and frontline clinical care. But those gaps also present opportunities to make public health data work harder and to change how doctors approach clinical care in times when events and information are changing at Internet speed.

That’s the gist of an editorial by Boston Children’s Hospital’s Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

It comes down to making electronic health records (EHRs) work more flexibly, in ways that help promote situational awareness among clinicians during times of crisis and flag instances when a patient’s condition may require more attention than usual.

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Patient-generated health data: Is health care ready to absorb it?

Health care data tsunamiIsrael Green-Hopkins, MD, is a second-year fellow in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a fierce advocate for innovation in health information technology, with a passion for design, mobile health, remote monitoring and more. Follow him on Twitter @israel_md.

A few months ago, I spent 15 minutes filling out a detailed health data form at the doctor’s office. The paper form contained multiple questions about my health, family history, medications and basic demographic information. I assumed that an administrative specialist would code it into the practice’s electronic medical record (EMR) to be put to use. So it came as a surprise when I spent another 5 minutes reviewing the form with my physician, who then proceeded to type this information into the EMR herself. I’m confident neither my physician nor I felt enabled by the experience.

Countless people have had a similar experience—or worse, filled out a form with no sign that any clinician ever saw the information. Though the industry has made outstanding progress in adopting EMRs, the practice of data acquisition from patients remains cloudy. Patient-generated health data (PGHD), a term encompassing all forms of data that patients provide on their own, is a relatively new concept in health care. It falls into two broad groups: historical data and biometric data.

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Can I have my health data? Some doctors still think no.

(Courtesy Accenture and Harris Interactive)

One of the big selling points of electronic health records (EHRs) is patient empowerment. By letting patients have their data, the thinking goes, they’ll be more engaged in their own health and empowered to take actions that will make them healthier.

Which is good not just for the patient, but for society as a whole, since living healthier means you’ll need to make use of fewer health care resources. Plus, a small study by doctors at a Veterans Affairs hospital showed that patients like having access to their records. Seems like a win-win, right?

While some physicians agree, there are some holdouts. That’s the take-home message from a survey recently published by Accenture and Harris Interactive, in which they asked 3,700 physicians in eight countries their opinions about letting patients have access to their medical and health data.

“The results of the survey are certainly quite interesting, although not surprising,” says Fabienne Bourgeois, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s and leader of the hospital’s MyChildren’s EHR project.

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