There is a story I heard about the first Apple Mac computer – how Apple had written manuals but didn’t want users to have to use them. The Mac was beautiful, elegant and easy to use from the moment you turned it on.
Forcing a large application into small independent parts that have to communicate with each other using minimal interfaces is always a good thing. The Mac GUI with multiple windows running applications with minimal interfaces is a good thing and in a way, a model for the future of healthcare IT – a model that will be based on a social network of doctors and their patients interacting directly through standard, lightweight, easy to use and vendor-neutral interfaces.
Large monolithic enterprise software applications for healthcare management like Epic, often become “fat and lazy” when there is no requirement to keep them split up. Also, the effort to expand and maintain the applications go through the roof. We’ve known that fact forever, but both our IT purchasers and our vendors act as if it’s raining and it’s all business as usual.
Of course, monolithic means all the business goes to one vendor, making him fat and happy, and very little requirement for thinking and effort by the purchasing organizations and the IT support.
If IT support considered their actual task, which is not work avoidance but the implementation and support of an effective IT organization enabling the health care staff to do a better job, things would look different.
The thing is, we do absolutely need modularity. The IT applications should mimic and support medicine as it is actually practiced, and not the other way around. Medical practice should not need to adapt itself to poorly conceived IT solutions. (You recognize this tendency by the constant cries for “more training”. It’s all just so much nonsense. My advice: ignore them).
Different specialities have different needs for note taking and guidelines. On the other hand, needs for handling of pharmaceutical prescriptions differ according to type of department. Internal medicine on a ward or outpatient differs from internal medicine as practices on an intensive care unit. Different needs also arise for appointments according to the ownership of the practice, regardless of speciality. And so on.
These differences aren’t gratuitous; they are necessary and are an inherent part of how medicine works.
The attempts to eliminate these differences by large, universal systems, and their large, universal ways of working, don’t work, since they force a suboptimal way of operating on the medical profession.
Now, the defenders of the great unified systems, let’s call them “unicorn followers”, argue that medicine should adapt itself to how IT works, else the IT systems will be too expensive and complex.
To the unicorn followers, we should say: yes, the IT systems will be more expensive, but the savings in medical practice will outpace them by orders of magnitude. Don’t suboptimize and try to save just on IT, that is not your job! Your job is to enable medicine to save lives and money through better healthcare, not through junk IT software and equipment.
Oh, and while we’re at it: modular systems are actually cheaper to produce and work much better, but that is something most software engineering texts explain and provide the proofs for. And you out there who purchase, or sell, or build these systems, you have read those texts, haven’t you?
In short, even the unicorn followers, once they’ve picked up a bit of the computer science of the last half century and started to worry about what their real task in the medical context actually is or should be, will undoubtedly see the light and start to specify new systems as modular in every possible aspect.
The unicorn, just like the “integrated enterprise medical records system” is a mythical beast and will never be seen in real life. Even if it wasn’t mythical, it would get stuck everywhere with that unwieldy horn and die of hunger. Good riddance.
Martin Wehlou, CEO
Martin has been a medical doctor and a developer for more than 30 years. He was trained in general and vascular surgery, intensive care, trauma, and general practice. He also holds the CISSP and CSDP certifications. He is the main designer and developer for the iotaMed suite, and is one of the co-founders of the company – see http://mitm.se/
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