Industry leaders must focus on bringing technology tools and connectivity to patients and physicians to drive the future of health care.

Betty Otter-Nickerson

Here’s how I see it: As always, it seems, there is major transition in health care. And, like life, some unpredictability. This comes as no surprise. Yet, during this time—call it one of change, progress, upheaval—we must continue focusing on creating a more mobile and connected place in which physicians and their patients share tools. We need to encourage a greater, more vested conversation, where health information exchanges and practice and patient portals are used, as well as secure messaging and 24-hour access to records and patient data for the patient and their physician.

I envision a health care environment that mirrors the rest of the world. Where, as a patient, she, he, or me can see my labs at 3 am, can query my doctor, and request refills; if I’m up for it, pay bills anywhere there is a connection. I see this as accepted and practiced, in the practice of medicine. Always. Any time. Now.

Here’s what I know: Patients are demanding greater ownership of their care and records. They want the always, any time, now.

I also know that physicians—along with the constant pressure of requirements and reform—need solutions they can trust; technology tools that are intuitive and help them provide the highest quality of care, all while meeting their patients’ needs.

Health care consumers are encouraging doctors to adopt health care technology. Patients are beginning to expect the same connection with their doctors that they have in other areas of their daily lives and, obvious as it may seem, physicians are finding that they must adopt technology because their patients are demanding it.

Physicians, too, realize their sway within the health care market, as both practitioners and consumers, and they realize—like their patients—how technological connections enhance their experiences in other areas of their lives (for example, online banking, booking appointments with the DMV through a Web site, purchasing movie tickets through a phone, etc). This understanding of using technology as a tool is helping them improve and streamline their practices and, ultimately (for the better), engage their patients in care.

Technology by itself won’t improve patient care. Physicians know this—we all know this. Physicians play the key role in providing higher quality patient care, but using technology as a tool to improve care improves outcomes, according to the physicians and patients I speak with. And, to me, that means improved outcomes equates to improved quality of care.

So, it makes sense that the practice of medicine is changing with technology, which calls for an adjustment of its perceptions.

It’s continually apparent to me that there are several areas where we as industry leaders need to rally. With reform, connectivity, and interoperability just a few of the concepts swirling about, specifically, now is the time for a “physician-focused and patient-centric” approach. We must act rather than just speak. Because, as more attention flows into the market—with reform and regulation—it’s time to decide where the future of health care is going to be. Connection and interoperable features that drive ownership of patient care may be rooted in the patient-centered medical home and accountable-care organizations, but for that, more needs to be done. We have to be able to share data—again, that’s where connectivity comes in—and we’ll have to be able to move records quickly and efficiently, all while trying to remove the shackles from providers attempting to do what they set out to do: Practice medicine.

All of this begins with the electronic record. Other tools are essential, too, including patient portals; physician referring portals with the ability for images and notes to be accessed from anywhere there is a connection; labs, refills, and appointments through one interface, a seamless integration between practitioner and patient. This is where we need to be, so we can move forward with the rest of the marketplace (ie, banks, media, and communication segments). With the value perceived in being able to share and communicate endlessly and with ease, we have to reach these heights in the practice of medicine.

Technology helps make lives better. Although, as noted above, technology doesn’t make doctors better, it just makes it easier for them to do their jobs. It won’t happen overnight, but I can see even better health care attained.

Betty Otter-Nickerson is president, Sage Healthcare Division, based in Tampa, Fla.