If you want a glimpse into how the application of patient, medical record, and treatment applications, outcomes and costs can be improved everywhere and for all by a set of national digital healthcare standards, the Department of Veteran Affairs is an outstanding example of what can be achieved. As you may know, the VA serves 7.84 million patients through 153 hospitals, 765 outpatient clinics and 230 veterans centers and other facilities. In this Wall Street Journal article, entitled The Digital Pioneer, written by Jane Zhang, she explains how the VA is doing more, at lower cost, with better outcomes with its own home-grown digital records system, patient barcoding methods, id-driven medication checks and balances and now even a pilot program to see if the VA solution can be meshed with hospitals outside the government’s system.
This is an article everyone in healthcare should read. It isn’t theoretical. And there are ample, detailed statistics showing how digitization has propelled the VA way ahead of others. Here’s just a few of the facts culled from Ms. Zhang’s piece:
The VA says the system has brought dramatic improvements. Consider the VA’s in-home monitoring program, which has about 40,000 patients enrolled. The VA says the program has reduced hospital admissions by 25% and length of hospital stay by 20%. The system’s automated reminders have also boosted performance in many areas… the percent of patients receiving a flu vaccine rose to 83% last year from 27% in 1995… Colon-cancer screenings increased to 84% from 34% during the same period.
The VA’s system allows doctors and nurses at more than 1,400 facilities to share a patient’s history… It also helps the VA monitor patient care at home… What’s more, the VA says it has reduced medication errors significantly since it introduced a scanning system in 1999. The situation at the VA stands in stark contrast to the rest of the nation’s health-care system. Only 1.5% of U.S. hospitals nationwide have a comprehensive digital-record system, let alone share information among different providers, according to a recent study co-authored by Dr. Jha in the New England Journal of Medicine.
People may continue to debate one standard versus another, I suppose, but there really can’t be any doubt any longer that a national (better yet, international) set of digital healthcare standards for patient tracking, medical records, medication monitoring and bedside care — as well as for all medical products and device identification – needs to happen now.