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Collaborating Toward Better Care: EHR, Data and the User Conference

by Sally Ginsburg, MD

It's sobering to think about where I was 10 years ago in medicine, and in pediatrics specifically. The idea of having an EHR was a distant one: I was taking notes on looseleaf paper, using a rubber stamp to denote a well-child exam or an acute visit. Holding the folder that contained these stapled papers, other assorted documents and carbon copies would often lead to a mishap with pages fluttering to the floor, landing completely out of order. I would stoop down, gather them up and, after apologizing to the patient, try to recover and get on with the tasks at hand.

We scheduled on paper, we billed on paper, and we did not have a computer in the office.

It is hard to imagine the ways my practice has transitioned from the dark ages to an almost paper-free environment over the past decade. As I write this, we are about to put our paper charts in storage and use the newfound space for staff offices.

This is a testament to the magical accomplishment of athenahealth. They have married medicine—with all its intricacies and idiosyncrasies—and technology, unifying them in a partnership that has people from business, technology and medicine all working toward the same goal of better health care for all. athenahealth took the concept of the "physician partner" and put in into practice. Who would have ever thought that doctors, typically so protective of their exclusive medical world, would be willing to go along with this radical concept?

athenahealth is a link to other physicians around the country, as we are all connected to each other via our data in the cloud. This remarkable amount of information can facilitate endless collaborative efforts if we harness its power. Even though we all use the same platform and templates, the elasticity of athenaClinicals allows each of us to use it in different ways.

There are eight providers in my office and we are always surprised at how differently we perform functions on athenaNet. We teach each other, and marvel at how it's possible for us to work in the same space and do things on the same platform, yet differently.

The same holds true for conversations I've had with other athenahealth pediatricians from around the country: We all can teach each other another way, if not a better way. We can provide solutions for each other and for the athenistas who work every day to make the system more functional and easier to use. We just have to take our solutions, and our challenges, and pay them forward.

athenahealth has leveled the playing field. We physicians are clients and customers, and we benefit from the changes athenahealth makes, just as they gain from our newfound functional efficiencies. They can improve health care by improving physician thoroughness in our charting, providing us with information to prevent medical errors, and even correcting our spelling. (Our handwriting isn't even a liability any longer with an electronic health record.) We physician partners can make athenaClinicals better by providing athenahealth with insights from our medical expertise, insights that will help improve the products they develop for our use.

If we commit to working with athenahealth on these improvements, we can provide better, more efficient patient care and improve the overall health care system. This requires an investment of our time and our effort, but I believe the end justifies the means.

This year, the upcoming athenahealth User Conference has established a new group of programs that support this idea, specialty-specific interactive sessions where people in similar specialties can get together, share information, discuss, problem-solve and collaborate on relevant issues. We can create user groups to pass along information about using athenaClinicals, discuss changes in medicine, exchange relevant clinical information, and even work together on clinical studies using the power of athenahealth data and report-writing.

I hope this is just the beginning of physicians partnering with one other and athenahealth so we can all get better. Together.

Dr. Ginsburg is a pediatrician at Pioneer Valley Pediatrics.

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