Guess who else is married to paper?

The real problem that bothers me more than anything else, though, given the state of database and data mining technologies and the general interconnectedness of everything we do, is the inability of any of many information systems to talk to more far-flung systems.

Earlier this week I asked "Why aren't students pushing paperless?" Now that I've spent most of the last week hanging out with my wife and our new baby in a hospital, I've found another institution almost as wedded to paper as students and teachers. Obviously this is outside my usual beat, but it's worth mentioning in the larger context of our unwillingness to leverage the technologies we have available to us.

Don't get me wrong. Plenty of hospitals, clinics, schools, business, and institutions have fully embraced technology to do their jobs smarter and better. Even the little family practice that we all go to has moved to a largely paperless model that allows them to easily share information with the local hospital. The doctors and nurses no longer spend their time navigating the UI on their little tablets and use them to efficiently access patient history and testing information.

Good stuff, right? Same goes, to some extent, for the hospital. Staff log everything in a computer system, most of which is accessible by our little clinic, since it's a community hospital. Here's where things get fuzzy, though. Often paper forms get filled out and then transcribed, medications and vital signs get recorded on paper and then transcribed...you get the point.

Transcription errors are an issue, of course, but so is the inefficiency of double recording. The real problem that bothers me more than anything else, though, given the state of database and data mining technologies and the general interconnectedness of everything we do, is the inability of any of these systems to talk to more far-flung systems.

Fortunately, aside from a nasty case of ileus that managed to resolve with fairly routine treatments, neither mom nor baby had to go anywhere other than our community hospital...However, imagine if there had been complications that warranted a trip to one of the tertiary care centers in the area. None of these hospitals would have had access to complete medical histories, testing information, dictated notes, etc. How much time might have been lost re-explaining or transferring records on paper or verbally when we certainly have mature technologies to transfer data electronically?

The Student Interoperability Framework is one example in education of moving towards a more efficient system for maintaining data and making it portable. This doesn't even require a centralized data store or some government-run student data mine. All that is required is a set of standards and some software to get disparate systems talking to one another. If education can move toward this goal, why can't health care?

Dump the paper folks...mature robust technologies in fields from data input to databases to data mining all exist to enable drastically less paper use and drastically better communications and workflows. Welcome to the 21st Century.