I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).
I wrote this piece in May 2006.
USB Drives Would Help Consumers Quickly Access McClinics
By Mr. HIStalk
You’ve seen the flurry of recent news. Your local Wal-Mart, Target, or chain pharmacy will soon offer basic medical care through in-store clinics.
It’s a low-friction process. If you wake up with strep throat, you just head over to your local store and quickly see a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Maybe $60 and 20 minutes later, you walk out with a prescription, having avoided the tedium of sitting in a cheap chair and stealing glances over your 2004 Newsweek to guess what’s wrong with everyone else in the room.
Most of us don’t have a firm relationship with a primary care physician, so drive-through McMedicine will suit us just fine. Just gimme the prescription, please, and let me get on with life.
Since these casual liaisons will take mere minutes, handling the dreaded “new patient” forms will be the biggest waste of time for both patient and clinic. You laboriously write everything down so they can re-enter it into their systems, even though you may never cross their door again (hopefully, each brand of clinic will at least share their EMR data nationally among themselves, like the drug chains do for prescriptions).
Here’s an alternative that I think has great possibilities. You enter everything in advance on your PC, saving it to a USB memory drive. Bring that along when you impulsively drop by the McClinic and hand it over to the receptionist. You’ve saved everyone time and reduced the chance of error. Maybe you even get to jump ahead of the guy hunched over the clipboard.
What the clinic needs is an interface to my gadget. They shouldn’t have to print and re-enter everything that I’ve already given them in electronic form. They should be able to plug in the device and press an import key in their EMR. Why not? A universal standard for exchanging basic personal health record information should be a slam dunk compared to all the other interoperability challenges ahead. You create and maintain your own information in one place — just bring it along.
Since electronic information saves the clinic time, it could encourage customers by providing free data entry software, and maybe throwing in a cheap USB key-ring drive with security features. That encourages brand loyalty, much like grocery store member cards. They could even update your device as you leave with encounter information, including instructions and information links.
This model has more opportunities to new consumer health care players like Intuit and Microsoft than the usual clipboards and copy machines. It also places consumers in control.
We’re moving toward a provider system that looks more like that of chain pharmacies, with a variety of interchangeable providers competing for customers. The big boys want to play in our sandbox — companies that value customer convenience, low cost, and competitive advantage a lot more than the current players.
Universal EMR interoperability at a national level isn’t coming anytime soon. Consumers are scared of the Internet when it comes to health care privacy. This system of having patients walking around with their own information ready to plug into a provider’s system seems like the best solution for now. If I were running a chain of these clinics, I’d jump all over it to beat my competitors.