I’ve been floating this idea out there for years (2006 to be exact), but I’d never put it together in one consolidated post that I could point to when talking about the concept. I call it the Video EHR and I think it could be the solution to many of our current EHR woes. I know that many of you will think it’s a bit far fetched and in some ways it is. However, I think we’re culturally and technically almost to the point where the video EHR is a feasible opportunity.
The concept is very simple. Put video cameras in each exam room and have those videos replace your EHR.
Of course there are some massive technical challenges to make this a reality. However, the cost of everything related to this idea has come down in price significantly. The cost of HD video cameras negligible. The cost of video storage, extremely cheap and getting cheaper every day. The cost of bandwidth, cheaper and higher quality and so much potential to grow as more cities get fiber connectivity. If this was built on the internal network instead of the cloud, bandwidth is an easily solved issue.
When talking costs, it’s important to note that there would be increased costs over the current documentation solutions. No one is putting in high quality video cameras and audio equipment to record their visits today. Not to mention wiring the exam room so that it all works. So, this would be an added cost.
Otherwise, the technology is all available today. We can easily record, capture and process HD video and even synchronize it across multiple cameras, etc. None of this is technically a challenge. Voice recognition and NLP have progressed significantly so you could process the audio file and convert it into granular data elements that would be needed for billing, clinical decision support, advanced care, population health, etc. These would be compiled into a high quality presentation layer that would be useful for providers to consume data from past visits.
Facial recognition technology has also progressed to the point that we could use these videos to help address the patient identification and patient matching problems that plague healthcare today. We’d have to find the right balance between trusting the technology and human verification, but it would be much better and likely more convenient than what we have today.
Imagine the doctor walking into the exam room where the video cameras in the exam room have already identified the patient and it would identify the doctor as she walked in. Then, the patient’s medical record could be automatically pulled up on the doctor’s tablet and available to them as they’re ready to see the patient.
Plus, does the doctor even need a tablet at all? Could they instead use big digital signs on the walls which are voice controlled by a Siri or Alexa like AI solution. I can already hear, “Alexa, pull up John Lynn’s cholesterol lab results for the past year.” Next thing you know, a nice chart of my cholesterol appears on the big screen for both doctor and patient to see.
Feels pretty far fetched, but all of the technology I describe is already here. It just hasn’t been packaged in a way that makes sense for this application.
Ideal Workflow for Providers – I can think of no better workflow for a doctor or nurse. Assuming the tech works properly (and that’s a big assumption will discuss in the cons), the provider walks into the exam room and engages with the patient. Everything is documented automatically. Since it’s video, I mean literally everything would be documented automatically. The providers would just focus on engaging with the patient, learning about their health challenges, and addressing their issues.
Patient Experience – I’m pretty sure patients wouldn’t know what to do if their doctor or nurse was solely focused on them and wasn’t stuck with their head in a chart or in their screen. It would totally change patients’ relationship with their doctors.
Reduced Liability – Since you literally would have a multi angle video and audio recording of the visit, you’d have the proof you’d need to show that you had offered specific instructions or that you’d warned of certain side effects or any number of medical malpractice issues could be resolved by a quick look at the video from the visit. The truth will set you free, and you’d literally have the truth about what happened during the visit on video.
No Click Visit – This really is part of the “Ideal Workflow” section, but it’s worth pointing out all the things that providers do today to document in their EHR. The biggest complaint is the number of clicks a doctor has to do. In the video EHR world where everything is recorded and processed to document the visit you wouldn’t have any clicks.
Ergonomics – I’ve been meaning to write a series of posts on the health consequences doctors are experiencing thanks to EHR software. I know many who have reported major back trouble due to time spent hunched over their computer documenting in the EHR. You can imagine the risk of carpal tunnel and other hand and wrist issues that are bound to come up. All of this gets resolved if the doctor literally walks into the exam room and just sees the patient. Depending on how the Video EHR is implemented, the doctor might have to still spend time verifying the documentation or viewing past documentation. However, that could most likely be done on a simple tablet or even using a “Siri”-like voice implementation which is much better ergonomically.
Learning – In mental health this happens all the time. Practicum students are recording giving therapy and then a seasoned counselor advises them on how they did. No doubt we could see some of the same learning benefits in a medical practice. Sometimes that would be through peer review, but also just the mere fact of a doctor watching themselves on camera.
Privacy – The biggest fear with this idea is that most people think this is or could be a major privacy issue. They usually ask the question, “Will patients feel comfortable doing this?” On the privacy front, I agree that video is more personal than granular data elements. So, the video EHR would have to take extreme precautions to ensure the privacy and security of these videos. However, from an impact standpoint, it wouldn’t be that much different than granular health information being breached. Plus, it’s much harder to breach a massive video file being sent across the wire than a few granular text data elements. No doubt, privacy and security would be a challenge, but it’s a challenge today as well. I don’t think video would be that much more significant.
As to the point of whether patients would be comfortable with a video in the exam room, no doubt there would need to be a massive culture shift. Some may never reach the point that they’re comfortable with it. However, think about telemedicine. What are patients doing in telemedicine? They’re essentially having their patient visit on video, streamed across the internet and a lot of society is very comfortable with it. In fact, many (myself included) wish that telemedicine were more widely available. No doubt telemedicine would break down the barriers when it comes to the concept of a video EHR. I do acknowledge that a video EHR takes it to another level and they’re not equal. However, they are related and illustrate that people’s comfort in having their medical visits on video might not be as far fetched as it might seem on the surface.
Turns out that doctors will face the same culture shift challenge as patients and they might even be more reluctant than patients.
Trust – I believe this is currently the biggest challenge with the concept of a video EHR. Can providers trust that the video and audio will be captured? What happens if it fails to capture? What happens if the quality of the video or audio isn’t very good? What is the voice recognition or NLP isn’t accurate and something bad happens? How do we ensure that everything that happens in the visit is captured accurately?
Obviously there are a lot of challenges associated with ensuring the video EHR’s ability to capture and document the visit properly. If it doesn’t it will lose providers and patients’ trust and it will fail. However, it’s worth remembering that we don’t necessarily need it to be perfect. We just need it to be better than our current imperfect status quo. We also just need to design the video EHR to avoid making mistakes and warn about possible missing information so that it can be addressed properly. No doubt this would be a monumental challenge.
Requires New Techniques – A video EHR would definitely require modifications in how a provider sees a patient. For example, there may be times where a patient or the doctor need to be positioned a certain way to ensure the visit gets documented properly. You can already see one of the cameras being a portable camera that can be used for close up shots of rashes or other medical issues so that they’re documented properly.
No doubt providers would have to learn new techniques on what they say in the exam room to make sure that things are documented properly. Instead of just thinking something, they’ll have to ensure that they speak clinical orders, findings, diagnosis, etc. We could have a long discussion on the impact for good and bad of this type of transparency.
Double Edged Sword of Liability – While reduced liability is a pro, liability could also be a con for a video EHR. Having the video of a medical visit can set you free, but it can also be damning as well. If you practice improper medicine, you won’t have anywhere to hide. Plus, given our current legal environment, even well intentioned doctors could get caught in challenging situations if the technology doesn’t work quite right or the video is taken out of context.
I realize this is a massive vision with a lot of technical and cultural challenges that would need to be overcome. Although, when I first came up with the idea of a video EHR ~10 years ago, it was even more far fetched. Since then, so many things have come into place that make this idea seem much more reasonable.
That said, I’m realistic that a solution like this would likely start with some sort of half and half solution. The video would be captured, but the provider would need to verify and complete the documentation to ensure its accuracy. We couldn’t just trust the AI engine to capture everything and be 100% accurate.
I’m also interested in watching the evolution of remote scribes. In many ways, a remote scribe is a human doing the work of the video EHR AI engine. It’s an interesting middle ground which could illustrate the possibilities and also be a small way to make patients and providers more comfortable with cameras in the exam room.
I do think our current billing system and things like meaningful use (or now MACRA) are still a challenge for a video EHR. The documentation requirements for these programs are brutal and could make the video EHR workflow lose its luster. Could it be done to accommodate the current documentation requirements? Certainly, but it might take some of the polish off the solution.
There you have it. My concept for a video EHR. What do you think of the idea? I hope you tear it up in the comments.