Specialist at Indiana University comes to Brazil to talk about the importance of electronic medical records in patient care.
The potential for improving patient care led Dr. Thankam Paul Thyvalikakath to research in the field of computer science. For her, digitize healthcare information is the key to amplify access to health and prevent diseases. “The patient is the center of the strategy. The emphasis is on information, not technology”, says the dentist, who currently runs the new Dental Informatics Core Initiative at the Indiana University School of Dentistry.
Last year, the specialist participated in the panel “The Challenge for Connectivity and Data Safety in Healthcare,” at the 6th Cimes (Congress of Innovation in Materials and Equipment for Health). The event took place in São Paulo and was organized by Abimo (Brazilian Association of Medical, Dental, Hospital and Laboratory Equipment and Supplies Industry), in São Paulo.
Thankam team’s is developing systems capable of using information technology as a basis for improving clinical care. She supports the integration of dental and medical data, creating an electronic record, giving a patient 360-degree view to the practitioner. Among the advantages, she points out more time to treat the patient. “With the information already in the system, the doctor gets to know better who is in treatment,” she says. Check out the interview that the specialist gave me.
Ser Digital – How can the adoption of electronic medical records transform healthcare?
Thankam – The healthcare digitization has reached a crucial stage. We no longer have an emphasis on technology, on the adoption of it. The market has been encouraged to do this in different ways. The current challenge is to understand how to use the data collected to improve patient care. The goal is to keep people healthy. We are moving from an environment in which we treat patients to another capable of preventing diseases. We need to know the personal characteristics, but not forgetting to consider environmental aspects, such as urbanization, diversity and population density. These actions demand quality in the information. From there, we will be able to use available technologies, such as big data, to analyze data and take care of people more efficiently.
“We are moving from an environment in which we treat patients to another capable of preventing diseases.”
Ser Digital – How did clinics, hospitals, and institutions understand the need to digitize operations and patient information in the United States?
Thankam – The health sector has been discussing this for more than two decades. In the last ten years, there has been an acceleration in the adoption of systems in clinics and hospitals. The reason for this growth is in the HITECH Act [program to encourage the adoption of electronic medical records and health technology created by the Obama administration in 2009]. Through the initiative, clinics and hospitals received tax benefits to digitizing their operations and patient information. In the beginning, of course, the greatest perceived benefit was efficiency in management. The systems carried such advantages as complete tracking of payments and control of billing and costs. When I started my work, the main issue was the adoption of systems. But the market understood that digitization was the basis for efficiency.
Ser Digital – What is the next step?
Thankam – The current challenge is undoubtedly connectivity. We have a large amount of data generated by the systems installed throughout the health care chain. But we need to connect this information. Establish rules and encourage doctors, dentists, and healthcare institutions to share data. From there, we will have the mission of understanding how to use the information to improve patient care. Getting data, joining and analyzing them has been our most outstanding job here in Indiana. It’s a complicated issue because of different systems and repositories. Dental data, for example, are separate from medical records. But a dentist needs to know if a patient suffers from any illness to treat she/her properly. Undoubtedly, the challenge is to connect the systems to obtain a single database, capable of receiving the most up-to-date information about each patient.
Ser Digital – How to motivate healthcare professionals to share their data, ensuring the patient confidentiality?
Thankam – The sharing of critical data, such as health registers, is a sensitive issue. The practitioner must protect the patient. Our job is to show how we are building the database, making clear the security and protection mechanisms. It is an educational work. We need to consider and understand this fear. But connectivity is inevitable. I believe that as health professionals understand the benefits of sharing the data, they will be more comfortable. It is a gain of time in the care. Also, the data can help answer questions that these professionals study. They can learn from their databases by aggregating information captured by other professionals. Analyzing and comparing. You can do this without harming the patient’s confidentiality.
Ser Digital – What is the potential for adopting electronic medical records in countries like Brazil?
Thankam – In developing countries, such as Brazil, the adoption of electronic medical records can be transformative. Digitizing is a quick way to get information about the population health. In addition to data from clinics and hospitals, it is possible to create a structure that allows the insertion of data from different devices – such as a Fitbit that measure physical activity. Information is the key to making better decisions about healthcare investments. It is a drive to allocating financial resources based on actual data, not perceptions. As there are financial constraints to improving care, you need to know how to distribute the money to benefit as many people as possible.
In the United States, we have been collecting data on population health for a long time. It is undeniable that this brings us advantages when it comes to studying diseases. By adopting electronic medical records, developing countries can reduce this information gap. It is a benefit for the whole society.