Imagine you’re skiing down a mountain in Lake Tahoe when you catch an edge and fall backwards, hitting your head. Still conscious, you head straight to the local emergency care worried about a concussion; but fortunately for you, the doctor’s examination shows you’re relatively unharmed and you’re left with a warning to be extra careful given your history of bad concussions.

A year later, you’re snow sledding in Vail when you have a concussion impactful enough to knock you out and send you to the intensive care unit (ICU). The local emergency care in Vail has no record of your past concussions, or even the doctor’s report from just a year ago. Since you’re unconscious, they can’t rely on you for your medical history. Your care providers are in the dark with you, incapable of gaining a full picture of your health to properly treat your current situation. To make matters worse, they’re treating you with medical equipment that’s incapable of connecting to other systems, increasing the risk for human error as the medical staff has to repeatedly punch in critical updates manually to a variety of systems.

A scary thought, isn’t it?

Hospitals and systems within hospitals aren’t connected, and it’s a massive problem riddled with friction and human error. For this reason, patient records should be captured and managed by a centralized custodian that holds all there is to know about the patient. Did they change locations, have a child or an emergency procedure abroad? Patients should have control over who accesses their data with rules in place to allow hospitals to access it when a patient cannot grant permission. This would allow hospitals and third-party services to access a patient’s full or partial medical history to better diagnose and treat them.

In an age of nano-architecture, driverless cars and smart watches, you’d think technology had already solved the age-old problem of paper records, disconnected IT systems and data silos. Yet, it hasn’t. Healthcare is still broken. It’s one of the last, yet most crucial, industries to go through transformation. Its IT systems, claimed to be patient-centric, are trapped within the four walls of a hospital, incapable of connecting critical information locally and externally. This prevents care providers from sharing clinical data, such as patient records, across systems within the hospital and with external healthcare IT systems across the nation and globe. Healthcare IT is failing doctors, medical staff and patients.

Many hospitals shy away from digital transformation because it’s feared to be a massive investment. For instance, a common electronic medical record (EMR) system, EPIC, can have implementation costs upwards of $500 million. However, using incremental approaches and partnering with leading companies that have an expertise where hospitals don’t, hospitals can keep digital transformation costs within budget. It comes down to understanding exactly what systems are blocking hospitals from sharing critical data, identifying partners to help efficiently unlock the data’s value and solving the issue in a way that leaves a legacy others can build on top of.

Johns Hopkins and Microsoft are prime examples. Recently, the two formed a partnership to redesign the way medical devices in an ICU talk to each other. According to John Hopkin’s SVP of patient safety, “Today’s intensive care patient room contains anywhere from 50 to 100 pieces of medical equipment developed by different manufacturers that rarely talk to one another.” And, given medical errors are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, it’s imperative these systems connect and talk.

This increasing pressure on doctors and hospitals to become more ‘digitally responsible’ is pushing electronic medical records (EMRs) into the spotlight and paving the way for self-monitoring technology, such as wearable devices and in-home testing facilities. In the digital age, we expect paper records to be a thing of the past, like floppy disks and cassette tapes. Now, it’s up to IT departments to quickly and effectively weave together multiple medical systems in different locations to power the patient care we’ve come to expect. Before we even enter the hospital, we want care providers to know who we are and to personalize our medical experience based on our history.

Information security is often cited as a reason not to open up medical information. The big irony here is by not making data available to other medical providers, it puts a patient in much greater risk of being misdiagnosed or given the wrong medication. Today, it is left up to patients to provide their information each time they go to a doctor that’s not their primary care physician. It’s inefficient and, quite frankly, ridiculous. Imagine if you had to fill a form out every time you wanted to withdraw cash from an ATM. While cash itself is going digital, you still need to fill out a form every time you go to the ER for a concussion. Why?

While it won’t be possible to create overnight a connected, centralized custodian that stores patient data, we can start to connect systems and hospitals with APIs. These ‘sparks’ so to speak can bring healthcare IT systems out of the dark and allow data collected in one system to be readily available for use in others, streamlining operations and improving efficiency. For instance, different legacy monitoring equipment in the ICU could share data with a cloud-based platform used by the medical lab. Or, a patient’s wearable device could share real-time vital signs with the appropriate doctor for immediate review.

Ultimately, these connections make the patient-centric healthcare of the future possible now.