What happens when the implementation phase is over?

National Health IT Week has had many stakeholders plugged into discussions about how the digital transition is progressing across the country, but specialists in some health IT-related fields have begun to ask what will come "once everyone has implemented systems."

As this informatics professor sums it up, "to me the real interesting work begins once everyone has implemented EHRs. After we reach this point, we can get on to the work of building a better healthcare system and otherwise improving people's health."

As he looks forward, he agrees with many others who believe that "the major challenge for the informatics community after implementation is to help make use of all the data in these systems. Unfortunately much of this data is still unusable, at least for achieving the goal of the learning healthcare system. One critical contribution we can make is to solve the data quality problem, which includes everything from making the entry of high-quality data by clinicians as easy as possible to adhering to standards to make it interoperable and reusable."

Ironically, it seems to us, the very challenges he lays out would suggest that the "implementation phase" may not come to as definitive an end as many would like.  Rather, given the inevitability of technological change, as well as the implications of that change for the day-to-day information management practices of providers, it seems more reasonable to expect something like "waves of implementation" as technologies change and change again.

But while change may be an exercise in nearly perpetual motion, he sees informaticists playing a critical role in what he calls "true health information exchange [HIE]."  Along with the goal of having information available for patient care, he argues that HIE "should also allow us to perform clinical and translational research, measure and improve healthcare quality, and advance public health."

And where do informaticists fit into that scenario?

In short, "As we move into what might be called the post-HITECH era, the informatics community must lead the charge in building systems that are secure, usable, and built with the goal of [improving] health and healthcare in mind."

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