David Higginson, EVP and chief innovation officer for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, has had a long career in healthcare IT and children’s health in particular. Higginson started his professional career as an accountant, but eventually moved into IT out of a desire to improve processes and help individuals make the best use of their time.

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In this episode of the Tell Me Where IT Hurts podcast, Dr. Anders begins by reminding listeners that he, like his guest, started in one career but over time moved to a new career. In Dr. Anders’ case, he joined a technology company after 16 years of practicing medicine – a change that some of his physician friends refer to as a move to the “dark side.” Dr. Anders saw the transition as a way to give back to providers and affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients, and not just the 6,000 to 7,000 he treated each year while in private practice.

From accounting to IT

Higginson shares that it that it is a “total accident” that he ended up working in IT. Though he grew up tinkering with computers and programming, his professional career began as a CPA. While working at MIT and later at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Higginson realized the organizations would benefit from moving away from paper records and to computers. He helped with the migrations and eventually gave up his accounting duties to dedicate himself to programming and problem solving.

“I am not overly techy,” Higginson claims. Instead, he is interested in what can be done with data. He has focused his career on figuring out how to make processes better so that people can do the best possible thing with their time. Whenever he has seen people being “a slave to the machine” and not making the best use of their intellectual power, he has worked to implement changes that allow individuals to work at the top of their license.

Fixing persistent problems

Higginson observes that persistent problems with EMRs often force clinicians to focus on the task of entering information without offering a payback to the physician or nurse. He believes that if a user is taking the time to input data, they should get something out of the process – or what is the point of doing it? That mindset fueled Higginson’s desire to create more value from Phoenix Children’s Clinic’s ambulatory EMR – and led to the health system’s partnership with Medicomp.

Using Medicomp’s Quippe engine, the IT staff worked with clinicians to create documentation templates that enable users to treat patients in a different – and better – way. For example, the enhancements have supported the creation of longitudinal patient data that fuels a business intelligence dashboard and provides physicians with a quick view of how each patient’s health progression over time.

Each day clinic staff can review a dashboard for patients coming in and identify those who do not have their conditions well-managed and require additional attention, as well as those who could be effectively seen by a physician assistant instead of the division chief. The IT team has also added tools that allow patients to update their conditions via a mobile device, which not only engages them in their own care but also creates a more complete longitudinal record.

Higginson believes the set of tools they have implemented has fundamentally changed the way the organization works, allowing clinicians to effectively manage larger populations and achieve better outcomes.

The future of health IT

Dr. Anders and Higginson also reflect on the future of health IT and EMRs. Higginson believes the next major reiteration of EMRs will change the input process: instead of being chained to a mouse and keyboard, physicians will rely on “automated scribes” that allow them to converse with patients and have the dialog recorded in the background.

Much like self-driving cars, these systems will listen in and capture conversations, but also require physicians to provide some oversight to ensure the accuracy of transcriptions. Higginson thinks big players like Microsoft and Amazon will help drive future transformation, especially in terms of overcoming the technology challenges with voice recognition.

Waving the magic wand

As has become his custom, Dr. Anders closes out the conversation asking Higginson what he would change about health IT if he had a magic wand.

“I would somehow stop the focus on the technology itself,” says Higginson. He encourages others in IT to make sure their work is “relevant to the organization” and to “speak the language of the organization we serve.”

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