Is Your EHR Actually Flexible? A Q&A with Jaimes Blunt of Altera Digital Health

Jaimes Blunt, Chief Technology Officer at Altera Digital Health, discusses flexibility in healthcare and how flexible solutions can bring healthcare to a higher level.

Question: What does flexibility mean to you within a health IT context?

Jaimes Blunt: A flexible health IT application delivers best-practice workflows with enough adaptability to address the unique priorities and preferences of individual healthcare organizations. Altera does not force clients to follow workflows rigidly because we know it can cause frustrations for users who want to get in and out of the electronic health record (EHR) as quickly as possible.

EHRs also need the ability to share data and work with other applications within the healthcare ecosystem to be considered flexible. We never want to be the reason a client can’t leverage another tool, whether custom-built or third-party, that would improve the lives of providers or patients.

Q: We often hear terms like “configuration,” “customization,” and “personalization” used interchangeably with “flexibility.” Are they the same?

JB: Configuration involves setting up or arranging components of a system to make it operational and typically focuses on adjusting parameters and settings to ensure proper functionality.

Customization enables an organization to complete specific tasks within a system outside of standard industry workflows and differently than other organizations using the same system. For example, if I wanted to build a materials management application on top of the EHR platform and have the systems exchange data, a customizable EHR would enable that.

Personalization is the ability for users to manage their experience at the individual level so the system works the way they would prefer to access and work within it. These adjustments fine-tune the user experience but do not affect core EHR workflows.

While these three factors are closely related, they are distinct, and together they drive how flexible an application is.

Q: What are some of the benefits a flexible EHR can bring to clinical and non-clinical users?

JB: A top benefit for clinicians is maximized throughput. If you can configure the EHR to operate the way providers execute tasks like clinical documentation, ordering and results management, they can complete their workflows faster. Additionally, a flexible EHR enables specialized clinicians to perform tasks more smoothly. For example, Altera has a Sunrise™ client that is a research hospital. Because Sunrise supports multiple ways to perform medication reconciliation, the organization can input new research medications that would not be part of a typical formulary and leverage clinical decision support for those drugs.

On the IT side, flexible applications can greatly reduce time spent migrating and managing support tickets as there are likely to be fewer unhappy users dealing with disruptive workflows. Flexibility also enables IT staff to implement applications in a way that aligns to their strongest knowledge bases (e.g., running the application through on-premises servers or through hosting).

Q: Is there a such thing as too much flexibility in health IT?

JB: Think about a rubber band. It’s flexible, but if you stretch it too far, it will snap and break. The same danger exists with an EHR. If you make it too flexible, you run the risk of adding too many clicks to a user’s workflow. If you go too far beyond a standard implementation, it can be difficult to learn how to use that instance of the EHR, even if users have used that system before. At Altera, whether we are enhancing features or bringing new solutions to market, we always strive to strike a balance between flexibility, ease of use, efficiency and effectiveness.

Q: How do emerging technologies in healthcare like the cloud and containerization fit into the flexibility conversation?

JB: Environment management within the cloud supports greater flexibility. Organizations have the ability to spin up additional environments to complete additional testing, or spin down based on what their IT budget allows. Cloud infrastructure provides them the freedom to do so.

Containerized applications enable IT departments to better manage application releases because they can apply components incrementally. This is advantageous for the vendor and the client organization as they can perform targeted testing on the containerized releases rather than the entire solution.

As these and other technologies continue to evolve, Altera is committed to making healthcare easier to access, understand and navigate. We’re constantly thinking about how we can deliver solutions that meet the needs of our clients, and flexibility is a pillar of that mindset.

Learn more about Sunrise’s flexibility from Altera Digital Health here.

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