By: Dr. David Blumenthal

Tags: technology , coordinated care , uniform high quality

Information is the lifeblood of medicine. Ask any doctor or nurse. They’ll tell you that clinicians are only as good as the information they have about their patients. A doctor, nurse or hospital can’t provide great care without good information, anymore than an anemic Olympian is likely to win gold.

That is why Partners HealthCare is investing now to create the best information system possible, an information system that will prepare us for an ever more hopeful and demanding future.

Partners HealthCare and its founding hospitals, Brigham and Women’s (BWH) and Massachusetts General (MGH), are known the world over as pioneers in health information technology. Long before it was fashionable or easy, BWH and MGH had electronic health records that they developed themselves. I know this because as a primary care physician at MGH, I first used an electronic health record (EHR) in 2002 when MGH introduced a homegrown system.

My personal experience proved vital when I later took on the role of U.S. National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (HIT). My job was to help President Obama and the federal government promote the use of health information technology everywhere in the US. Having gone through adopting and using an EHR at MGH helped me both plan and understand what it was we were asking doctors and hospitals everywhere to do.

But a leading health system can’t rest on its laurels. Partners has very good electronic health records, but we have developed or installed a variety of different EHRs among our nine hospitals and many health centers. It has grown more and more difficult and expensive to get these different products to communicate, and to provide each patient with a single, seamless electronic health record that can travel with them wherever they go in our system. And providing a single complete record for each patient is vital to increasing quality and efficiency of care, which is why we decided to adopt a universal EHR system.

Furthermore, Partners is first and foremost a provider of health services, not an information technology company, and we can’t hope to keep up with the dynamic IT industry any more than we can manufacture our own drugs and devices in the modern era. There are now 1700 electronic health records and modules certified by the federal government, and more are emerging every day. Our plan is to install the best of these, and then use our homegrown expertise to build on it and make it even better. That will give us the best of all worlds.

Building the EHR of the future is a core component of Partners’ strategy for maintaining excellence in clinical care, teaching and research, as it will be for every health care organization in Massachusetts and the US. And in HIT, we will continue to innovate and lead so we can deliver the best care possible to our patients and their families.