Ebola Cases Put Focus On Health IT Needs

John W. Loonsk | Healthcare IT News | October 22, 2014

Outbreak management needs specific capabilities, strategies

The Ebola cases in the United States, despite their limited numbers, have generated considerable discussion and anxiety. The discussion has included health IT because of the initial assertion that the Dallas hospital electronic health record led to the first U.S. Ebola case being sent home. The assertion was subsequently refuted, but it initiated conversation about whether the EHR was really to blame and, eventually, how EHRs might lean forward and help in such circumstances.

Unfortunately, either way, the focus on EHRs in these Ebola discussions does not recognize more prominent outbreak health IT needs nor the ways we have yet to meet most of these needs with incentives and infrastructure.

The general outbreak anxiety is distressing and sometimes misplaced, but it does play an important role in motivating action. It is an unfortunate truth that emergency preparedness only gets attention during and shortly after emergency events. Work like health IT which requires sustained attention, incentives, standards, certification, and information exchange particularly suffers under these dynamics. An EHR did not cause the initial Ebola illnesses in the US, but health IT is also not yet aligned to substantially help with outbreaks either. Without adding to the anxiety, we should recognize the needs now and address them as soon as we can...