Why Template Should Be a 4-Letter Word


What do you think of when you hear the word "template?" For us, it conjures up a staid, static form that is meant to serve the greatest number of users without any concern for customization or individual needs. EHRs offer templates for reporting, but these are canned text, powered by macros (that the surgeon must spend hours creating and maintaining), or else a one-size-fits-all mentality that tends to leave out the individuality that accompanies all levels of medical practice. For this reason, we have transitioned from saying "templates" in our surgery products and now refer to them as "algorithms." It may appear as a simple change in vocabulary, exchanging synonyms, or else a craven marketing technique, but for mTuitive OpNote, it's something much more.

The basic definition of algorithm is the "steps taken to arrive at a calculation." And while not all of our algorithms calculate outcomes (though some do calculate things like ICD and CPT codes), the steps taken do change and thus mark a change in context. If a surgeon enters in certain answers in certain fields, other fields pop up or disappear or are filled out automatically. It is a reactive, dynamic process that takes account of what the surgeon is entering and changes the outcome based on that. These are the steps in calculating a report. Algorithms need data to be fed into them to return varying results, while templates remain the same no matter what data may be entered.

Algorithms include such items as branching logic, decision trees, reactive components that respond to what the user has been entering. The algorithms themselves are specific to procedures or to specialties, as opposed to generic catch-all templates that can be used by any speciality in any capacity. While that is the easy solution and can be a good broad approach, physicians require more specific solutions. Imagine if penicillin was just given all the time simply because it was the template for treating most symptoms? Physicians don't operate under template mindset, why should their technology?

Make no mistake, templates are still in use and can serve their functions. We use templates in our pathology products, for example, but even that is adopted terminology derived from the wording set out by groups like CAP and other organizing bodies. But it is becoming a restrictive term, one that conjures up the same stale information when our pathology templates have been curated and infused with logic and calculations to ease workflows and eliminate redundant or irrelevant fields. So while we are as guilty as anyone for using it, perhaps it is time to jettison the term "template" and focus on a more accurate label that properly encapsulates all that our "templates" do. A template is something pre-built that is built upon without much changing to reflect the user's needs or experience - shouldn't we be focusing on something beyond that?

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