The MRE – A Model for an EMR?

Sometimes we can draw inspiration from the most unlikely places by making connections between two seemingly completely unrelated things. Recently this happened to me.

Our nation’s military has long been recognized for its technology leadership and this includes the early adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in both the Military Health System and the Department of Veterans Affairs. But perhaps we can also look for healthcare technology inspiration in something far removed from the IT environment within our Armed Forces.

I am referring to something that those who have served our country are very familiar with … “MRE”. For the rest of us, this is not a misspelling of “EMR” but an acronym for “Meals Ready-to -Eat.” A MRE is a self-contained, individual field ration for use in combat and other field conditions. Development of a more portable, palatable and nutritionally complete on-the-go meal for servicemen and women began in 1963 by the Department of Defense and has been in use since the early 1980s. MREs provide a complete portable meal for service members who need sustenance on the go – in other words a turnkey meal solution suited to specific environments.  Today they can choose from more than  24 entrees and over 150 additional items.

It may be an unconventional comparison, but MREs and EMRs share more than just the same three letters.

  • Both are solutions that were developed over time to address a well-defined user need – a meal on–the-go and documenting a patient visit
  • Both include iterations of technology advancements to continually improve the utility, quality, convenience and breadth of consumption
  • Both need to integrate into an established workflow that is demanding and complex
  • Both provide better access and more convenience than the prevailing solution
  • Both are transaction-based  – one meal and one patient visit at a time
  • Both need to be portable and configurable to a variety of users

Clearly the comparison only goes so far and the point is not that a portable military meal should literally be a design model for an electronic medical record. Moreover, the opportunity to create a remarkable experience for a doctor, practice manager, medical assistant, receptionist and, let’s not forget, the patient, with a web-based electronic medical record platform is far greater than the culinary equivalent with a MRE. But yet there can be an elegance and simplicity of design in how solutions evolve in disparate categories that can inspire us to ameliorate our own work. Sometimes it just takes looking at something with a fresh perspective.

So what about MREs can inspire us to create a great EMR experience?

For me it comes down to the integration of form and function – a purpose-built solution to better meet a need that can be replicated and scaled. It organizes contents in a complete and inclusive package that is highly consumable. It is a solution that has been continually refined to meet the very specific needs of its users and the environment in which it is consumed. It’s about the contents and the packaging.

So as practices examine their own EMR options, how completely does their EMR meet their practice and their patient needs? How accessible is the EMR when they are out of the practice and when they want to access it on a mobile device? How satisfying is the user experience? Is the EMR ready for “consumption” or does it take extensive configuration?  Is it an elegant simple solution or is it klugey? These are important ingredients for making an EMR an integral and well-utilized part of a practice.

Perhaps when it is time to rollout your own EMR, you will be ready to wish your staff “Bon Appétit too!”

About the Author
Stephen Armstrong

Stephen Armstrong is senior vice president for Hello Health, the revenue generating EHR platform for primary care practices supporting practice vitality through patient engagement.