How Information Technology & Software Improve Healthcare
Last Updated: 20 May 2019
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A Tale of Two Healthcare Cities
A patient with a brain lesion is referred by her general practitioner via fax to the neurosurgical clinic. The patient is scheduled for a biopsy through a series of phone calls and insurance paperwork (also faxed). The morning of the procedure, the surgical team gets an alert on their beepers that the OR is ready for them.
They enter the OR, set their beepers aside, and fire up their million dollar 3-D stereotactic neuronavigation system with augmented reality for tumor removal that has been synced with the patient’s thin-slice contrast enhanced brain MRI and an exact replica of their skull base that was made via 3-D printed biosynthetic material.
Healthcare can at times feel like a tale of two cities. One the one hand, we have some of the most advanced technology in the world in places like the the neurosurgical operating room. On the other hand, we are single handedly keeping the 90’s spirit alive with pagers and fax machines.
One technological advancement that was intended to improve healthcare delivery is the electronic medical record. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. And while products like Dragon medical dictation systems have made things more efficient on the provider side, it often feels like there is still a long way to go before we’ve caught up to other industries in this day and age.
However, there have been measurable improvements made in healthcare because of healthcare IT and software. Today’s guest post will outline these changes. By the way, if you are not a fan of how technology has impacted healthcare, do something about it.
Healthcare Information Technology
In the healthcare space, information technology (IT) systems and software have changed — and continue to change — the clinician workflow and patient engagement.
In this post, we look at two major transformative shifts in healthcare IT: the adoption of electronic health records or electronic medical records (EHR/EMR) and the rise of the cloud.
The basic function of EHR/EMR is to retrieve, update, and share a patient’s official health data seamlessly. The clinician should be able to immediately open an EHR file and see the patient’s past treatments, medications, lab results, and other information.
The intended objective of EHR is to reduce medical errors, improve clinician efficiency, and help hospitals reduce their operating costs by decreasing paperwork and manual processes.
However, for the intended benefits of EHR to materialize, interoperability between different EHR platforms is absolutely vital. Today, there are as many as 16 different EHR platforms in use by a staggering 571,045 hospitals and clinics. On average, most hospital systems utilize 10 different EHRs (within the same system). This is a clear sign that the lack of interoperability is a challenge.
Fortunately, efforts are underway by the industry — e.g., the CommonWell Health Alliance — to facilitate EHR interoperability. The goal is to enable 80% of healthcare professionals in the United States to share their patients’ data between respective EHR systems.
In tandem with EHR/EMR, the healthcare information technology (IT) space has also become a major user of the cloud — by 2025, the cloud computing market is slated to reach $55 billion.
Be it public cloud service providers — e.g., Google, Microsoft or Amazon — or hybrid and private cloud configurations, healthcare providers are using the cloud for the following purposes.
The by-product of EHR/EMR is that institutional healthcare providers have become hosts to vast amounts of patient data, with almost all of it sensitive and liable under data privacy laws.
Be it the escalating cost of expanding on-premise server infrastructure to the risk and complexity of securing data, many hospitals are off-loading their EHR/EMR hosting to firms such as GCP, Azure, or Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Thanks to the cloud, hospitals are able to avoid escalating capital expenditures (CAPEX) and convert their data hosting costs to a predictable flat-rate operational expenditures (OPEX). In addition, they don’t have to deal with the cost of securing their data, which requires specialized (and difficult-to-acquire) expertise and infrastructure.
In addition to hosting data, the cloud has also enabled healthcare providers to better interact with and support their patients. For example, with patient portals, patients can schedule their appointments, message their physicians, and make their payments online.
Not only has this made it easier for the patient to engage with their provider, but hospitals are able to now automate many manual processes, such as billing.
Through a component of patient portals, the ability to schedule online has enabled hospitals to cut the time-consuming process of setting up appointments by phone. Instead, hospitals now utilize their staff for more critical tasks.
Remote Patient Monitoring
The ability to safely collect, store, and process data through the cloud has also freed healthcare providers to remotely monitor the health of their patients.
This works by assigning various medical devices to patients. In turn, these devices will monitor the patient (e.g., for blood pressure) and return data about their findings to the provider. With a dashboard, clinicians can review the information and, in turn, engage with the patient.
Instead of taking the risk of miswriting a prescription (or having the pharmacist misread it), the provider can send the prescription order online to the pharmacy. The patient would just need to pick it up.
This also helps pharmacies prepare their orders in advance, thus reducing the time a patient has to wait as well as use any idle time at the pharmacy for servicing orders in advance.
On the patient’s side, there’s a portal to view and send payments. But there are also automated billing systems on the provider’s side to process and record payments, saving hospitals/clinics a considerable amount of time. In addition, the system saves hospital on papers (that could easily get lost or misplaced) and enables them to archive without losing physical space.
Finally, with the cloud, healthcare providers can recover from the worst-case scenario of losing their data. Simply put, they can back it up to the cloud and, should a breach or fatal error occur, restore it in prompt order. This applies to portals, billing systems, EHR, and other assets, too.
Overall, the healthcare IT space offers many opportunities for efficiency gains for providers, but gathering the right expertise and infrastructure is a challenge.
For example, without proven EHR or EMR experts consulting on your data hosting needs or helping with configuration, you could be at higher risk of breaches or inefficiencies.
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