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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Health IT

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EMR adoption is skyrocketing, in no small part due to government incentives. The office of the national coordinator lauds this hockey-stick curve as a success. Advocates promise electronic records will improve patient care, reduce mistakes, and save healthcare costs. At the same time, doctors love to complain about implementation cost and poor usability. How can we reconcile these differing opinions? The truth is they are describing very different technologies. EMRs, the way they are implemented now, will not accomplish these goals. In fact, early adopters can become stuck at a rudimentary level of functionality, and the extensive feature lists described by meaningful use criteria fail to address the most basic needs for patient care.

I have been at medical institutions at different levels of technological development. Each has a different attitude toward the EMR; for some its loathing, others longing. Some devote resources to try to improve it, but others give up. I realized the parallels with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people are motivated to attain something only after their very basic needs have been fulfilled. So are EMRs good or bad? Well, it depends on where you are on the hierarchy.

The figure above describes the steps to building a technology infrastructure that will lead to improved patient care. Yes, incentives help us achieve some very basic needs, but the problem is that decisions and investments we make now will determine the ceiling as well.

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