In a single generation, we have seen the tools of the computer age married to the world of healthcare, resulting in the birth of the electronic health record. And from that simple concept has come a dazzling array of products to promote health and wellness.

The safety of each patient is a concept that is as old as medicine itself. The Hippocratic Oath — which was written more than 2,000 years ago and is still recited by physicians today — contains a pledge to do no harm.

And yet, throughout the ages, we know that the healing arts have often been anything but healing. The long history of medicine is largely one of trial and error, as humans have sought to relieve suffering in the face of often mysterious and terrifying illnesses. It is only in the last 100 years that scientific understanding has begun to dispel the ignorance and errors of the past, giving new hope to millions suffering from age-old disorders.

Today, millions around the world almost take medical advances for granted. The prevention and treatment of disease remains imperfect, of course, but is no longer indistinguishable from guesswork. Many diagnoses once considered death sentences are today treatable. And the dawn of an age of genetic and personalized medicine promises that the century ahead will be even more impressive than the one just behind us.

Technological advances in healthcare

But it is not simply the steady advance of knowledge about the cause and course of various diseases that has made such an important difference. The critical difference lies in our ability to make sense of the medical knowledge we have gained, to harness the power of the data we create, and to create the conditions for previously unimaginable advances.

The process by which such paradigm shifts occur was elegantly described in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Thomas S. Kuhn’s landmark 1962 essay reflecting on the scientific process.

Such processes unfold across countless disciplines today, including the relatively young field of healthcare information technology.

Electronic Health Records (EHR) and patient safety

There is little doubt today that the rise of Electronic Health Records (EHR) has made the clinician’s job easier in numerous ways. Having a fuller knowledge of a given medical condition, historical perspective, the ability to analyze each patient’s history, and tools to warn of drug interactions, creates an environment in which healing becomes more likely. In medicine, knowledge is not merely power, but the power to heal.

Less appreciated, however, are the new challenges that come with the Information Age. Enormous power, as so many superhero movies remind us, comes with enormous responsibility. Having access to information is just the start — knowing how to put that power to work on behalf of patients places extraordinary demands upon providers.

And that commitment means a mental shift, to something highlighted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which in a 2004 report characterized patient safety as “indistinguishable from the delivery of quality health care.”

In other words, “quality care” and “patient safetycannot no longer be seen as separate entities, if indeed they ever were. From Hippocrates’ day to ours, there is but a single entity, quality patient care, which must never lose its focus on the safety of the patient.

Without that understanding — a relentless commitment to patient safety — all the computing power, connectivity, and interoperability we can muster will still fail to realize medicine’s full potential.

Even with such a commitment, of course, we remain human. No medical facility is perfect, no individual practitioner is infallible, and few missions are completed without a single flaw. And no one in the field of healthcare IT can claim perfection. What we at eClinicalWorks strive to do is fulfill the promise of medicine as best we can, combining the best available technology with wisdom and compassion to be as strong a partner as possible to the clients we serve.

As human beings, we may always fall short of our goals. But through a conscious, concerted, and conscious effort to apply the wisdom of our industry — and ages past — we believe we can make a lasting difference in the lives of the human beings under our care.

About the author: eClinicalWorks

eClinicalWorks is a privately held leader in healthcare IT, providing comprehensive, cloud-based Electronic Health Records (EHR) and Clinic Management solutions used by more than 115,000 GPs and specialists in over 70,000 facilities in more than 20 countries.

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