How Healthcare IT Is Reshaping U.S. Medical Care |

Doctor Holding A Tablet

A few years ago, upon entering a hospital emergency room, you would likely be asked about your symptoms by a triage nurse holding a clipboard.  Today, it's just as common for the nurse to wield an iPad and add notes from your conversation that can later be accessed by several members of the hospital staff. This upgrade in healthcare technology saves the emergency room physician from undertaking a second detailed work-up on your condition. 

Lab technicians can find test orders, nursing staff's care instructions and yes, billing staff can review the file and begin building an invoice.

As for you, Dear Patient -- you will be pleased to be spared the need to tell the same set of facts again and again, but there’s more to it than that.  You have witnessed a small part of a revolution: the birth of the healthcare IT market.  

Improving Access, Patient Monitoring with Healthcare IT

Healthcare information technology trends are beneficial to the industry, especially as it is facing intense pressure to improve quality, control costs, and meet ever-changing government requirements.  Healthcare is delivered in a variety of settings, and physicians and nurses are almost always on the move.  Healthcare is complex, and in most countries is delivered in a complex system with many cooperating or competing care providers.

Yet, healthcare was one of the last industries to adapt to information technology. Compared to manufacturing or retail service industries, it lagged in computerization.

As of 2000, few hospitals contained fully implemented IT systems.  That’s hard to imagine even  today - a hospital with no computers. But once the industry began diving into the IT wave at the beginning of the last decade, it made dramatic investments, and is now among the top buyers of new IT equipment.   

The stakes are high.  Spending on the healthcare market in the U.S. has increased considerably in recent decades:

  • From $1,350 billion in 2000 to $2.8 trillion in 2010.  In 1980, it was $256 million. 

  • Expenditure on healthcare is expected to continue to rise with the total U.S. healthcare spending expected to reach $4 trillion and 20% of GDP by 2015.

Governments and providers have an eye on using technology to make themselves more efficient and reduce redundancies.  But costs aren’t the only reason for IT.  The IT transition for the healthcare industry presumes that with better information, physicians and nurses can provide more informed care and patients will see better outcomes. 

Healthcare IT Continuously Evolves

Here are additional examples of how healthcare informatics are revolutionizing the healthcare industry:

EMR - This development is one that we will be focusing on in greater detail in future blog posts.  For now, in brief, the electronic medical record (EMR) is a computer-based patient medical record (the term also describes the system that manages those records for the hospital.) Over the last 20 years, medical institutions have encouraged the shift towards computerization to help manage patient information.  This new record system helped doctors to conduct efficient, convenient, and to-the-point medical examinations.  Records can also be used to analyze patient visits and be sure only appropriate test and treatments are ordered.

Handhelds – With their close resemblance and functional similarities to the old physician’s clipboard, the iPad and other tablet devices are gaining popularity in healthcare.  Some handhelds are designed just for healthcare usage.  Patient monitoring devices have historically accounted for the largest share of sales in the handheld market largely due to the range of product availability, and the number of conditions requiring ultrasound and Electrocardiogram (ECG).  Administrative devices are being used for a variety of uses in the health field including access to patient records at the point of care, improved viewing capabilities for medical images, and ordering.

Cart on Wheels (COWS) – Desktop PCs are great for an office.  For the hospital, not so much.  COWS are computers enabled with wireless technologies mounted on a mobile cart. These computers are battery-driven that have an average capacity of 12 hours, a typical work shift.  The prime importance of having a battery and wireless-enabled technology is that the nurse or the doctor operating the COWS does not need to plug and unplug the necessary wires when they move from attending one patient to another.

RFID – Radio Frequency Identification technologies are sophisticated tags that can be attached to medical equipment or even patient bracelets in order to identify and keep track of locations.  An RFID tag might be applied to a box of expensive medical equipment to be sure it is not misused.  Or it may be attached to a patient bracelet to alert medical staff if an Alzheimer’s patient goes astray.  Even for patients who do not need tracking for security reasons, the tags can be useful to tell administrators (and billers) when a patient has visited a certain area, such as the X-Ray department.  Sophisticated tags can even flag a hospital administrator if the temperature is too hot for the pharmaceuticals being stored.  

Bar Code – RFIDs are useful, but expensive; 2D and 3D barcodes are much cheaper tags that can be mounted to equipment.  At a few cents a tag, they can be used for simple tracking of hospital device and pharmaceutical supplies.  Bandage inventory low?  Need to reorder.  This can be accomplished by bar coding of supplies.

Wireless and Networks - All these moving parts need centralization and network managers in hospitals develop networks, often wireless WANs which can integrate data from devices and tags/readers and store it so it can be used in the future.  

Measurable Improved Outcomes of Healthcare IT 

There are several drivers of healthcare IT.  Such as an improved ability to share information designed to:

  • Improve efficiency of work flow
  • Foster reductions in medical errors
  • Ensure patient safety
  • Improve doctor-patient communication.

Providers are also motivated by the increased need to improve documentation of clinical processes and integrate them with the billing system and to have a record that helps to comply with the rapidly changing legal, regulatory, and accreditation standards.

There are also negative factors that slow the adoption of technology in the healthcare setting.  They can be broadly classified as financial or cost inhibitors, including resistance by physicians, lack of time, adequate training, and technological inhibitors.  The major inhibitors are cost and resistance by physicians.  This might be referred to as a cultural or generational factor, and it can take shape in several ways that can stall innovation: weak support by medical staff, and disconnects between physicians and the management in decision-making.  Lack of resources or funding, recruitment and retention of high-quality and highly skilled personnel, are all pieces of the healthcare IT matrix that continue to evolve.

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Thanks for reading!

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Bruce Carlson
Kalorama Information

Topics: E-commerce & IT Outsourcing Telecommunications & Wireless Healthcare Medical Devices