Two weeks ago the city of Boston stood still as its officials and medical professionals scrambled fearlessly to cope with the aftermath of the horror that ensued at one of the nation’s most prestigious marathons. My thoughts turned immediately to the people and families who were affected by the tragedy, and most especially to one of my co-workers who was visiting Boston at the time. Thanks to social media we were quickly assured that one of our marketing colleagues was safe and we were able to breathe a short sigh of relief. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to all of those who were not so fortunate.
As a Health IT professional, I’m always curious about the responses in tragedies like this. I envision the complete chaos of a hospital that is being flooded with injured victims and the medical staff furiously working to preserve and protect the lives of so many innocent people. In an age of EHRs, I find hope that many of the patients being treated will be able to provide their physicians with immediate access to their medical records. I watch the news and hope that amidst the confusion and pain that is spreading through the city that the lengths that Health IT has traveled will somehow manage to spread a light over the otherwise dismal situation.
While reading about the events that took place on that awful day in Boston, I came across a story that brought a smile across my face and renewed my zeal for HIT in an entirely new way. While the city was virtually shut down to cope with the tragedy, many patients who had been waiting for weeks or months for their previously scheduled doctors’ appointments on that day were not able to keep them. This was not a time for routine doctor visits in Boston. One man, however, was able to keep his visit even though he was confined to his home. Mr. Jones – a pseudonym to protect his privacy – had recently been diagnosed with a disabling neurological condition and was eager to have his follow-up visit with his neurologist. Dr. Eric Klawiter, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and one of a group of younger physicians participating in a new initiative called Mass General TeleHealth. Dr. Klawiter was confined to his home and Mr. Jones was unable to drive into the city, but they were able to turn to their laptop computers and connect instantly.
Dr. Klawiter was able to gather the history, evaluate some of the neurological complaints, and even review the results of Mr. Jones’ brain scans by sharing the actual images over the screen and highlighting areas of concern. For Mr. Jones, the entire visit occurred in the comfort and convenience of his home, and the information that was shared was no different than what would happen in a typical office visit. Both were happy with the “video visit” and Mr. Jones was grateful that he didn’t have to reschedule his appointment and prolong the anxiety of waiting for the news of his condition.
Let this event be a reminder for all of us that life gets in the way of people’s ability to seek proper medical care every day, and that our obligation to fix that problem is just as imperative as our ability to ensure access for the most critically ill. Health IT isn’t just a job, it’s a mission to improve health care and provide patients and physicians with the ability to connect any time, anywhere.