Treating a Patient with Partial Information

Posted on December 4, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In some recent discussions, I’ve heard arguments against HIEs and healthcare interoperability which say that it’s a bad thing because “What if the HIE doesn’t provide me all the patient info I need?” This is actually a really important question and one worthy of consideration. In fact, it could be extended to say, “What if the HIE provides me the wrong information?

While these are really important challenges for HIEs to address, it returns to the common fallacy that I see over and over again in healthcare. We compare the implementation of future technology against perfection as opposed to the status quo.

The reality is that doctors have been treating patients with partial and incorrect information forever. An HIE that can only provide partial or even incorrect information sometimes is similar to the situation that doctors face every day.

Think about how many patients have chosen not to tell their doctor something because they didn’t remember to tell them that info. How many patients have told their doctors the wrong information because they couldn’t remember the right information? Millions. There are even many patients who are afraid to give their doctor their health information based on privacy concerns. Once again, the doctor is treating the patient with partial information.

I imagine the reason it feels different is that we feel like their should be a different level of trust with an HIE. Maybe there is a different level of trust in data coming from an HIE versus a patient’s memory. However, that doesn’t mean that a doctor should put 100% trust in the data that an HIE provides. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy skepticism with any third party data source. No doubt there are varying degrees of trust with all third party data sources that are used by a doctor. The HIE needs to be at the high end of the trust spectrum, but its inability to be perfect shouldn’t hinder its use anymore than the imperfect EHR data hinders its use.

Over time these HIE systems will do a much better job of measuring the confidence of the data their providing. Ok, that might be pretty optimistic. Instead, it’s more likely that doctors will learn how confident they should be in the data they get from an HIE.

Doctors already have created a culture of appropriate skepticism with patient provided data. I think something similar is the right approach with HIE data. Plus, doctors are smart enough to evaluate when a medical situation requires confirmation of data and when it requires further investigation. They’re making these types of decisions all of the time.