The Atlantic: Why doctors still use pen and paper

The Atlantic: Why doctors still use pen and paper

I consulted for a healthcare IT provider a couple years ago, and had a chance to dig into this topic a little bit. While doctors are somewhat reluctant in some cases to embrace new technology, it’s a combination of stranded data issues (and the regulations that make those very painful) and provider interoperability that make this field look so backwards in comparison to essentially every other industry in existence. Epic, arguably one of the most successful healthcare IT providers, has enabled its success by providing a walled garden for health systems…this is a massive step backward compared to most enterprise software these days, and harkens back to the 1980s when businesses were still contracting out providers to set up servers in their basements. And since this attitude still exists among the software providers, most large backbone software providers (Meditech, McKesson, etc.) are loath to encourage compatibility with their competitors’ systems.

While this often makes data impossible to move and software difficult to upgrade (and people wonder why the healthcare industry is collectively one of the largest users of Windows XP remaining), there is reasoning in the providers’ logic. The easier it is for data to move, the more likely you are to have a breach and a massive HIPAA violation. And if you force a customer to use your software at every level (from hospital management to x-ray photo management to the pharmacy), you can control this. So interoperability is difficult…but generally for reasons invisible to more casual computer users.

As is alluded to in the article, the only real way to make doctors and hospitals take the plunge into this very unfriendly software realm is to force them. Though as is also alluded to in the article, making the health systems actually pay for their own inefficiency may be a good start too.


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