Thursday, 30 October 2014 00:00

Healthcare IT: Rapid Growth for a Growing Industry

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It has been said that information is the lifeblood of modern medicine. Information gives healthcare workers the ability to analyze and share information. The task of providing and managing care becomes more effective when this information is updated and available at the exact point of care: hospital, home, doctor’s office or at the scene of an emergency.


The primary driver of medicine’s ability to harness information rests in the development of healthcare information technology (HCIT). HCIT provides the healthcare industry significantly greater power with regard to its ability to access and analyze patient data in real time or near real time, provides the integration of caregivers across various disciplines in order to support clinical decision-making and manage the wealth of information collected.


Healthcare information technology (HCIT) offers solutions for almost all segments of the healthcare industry. The following represent some of the HCIT applications being used:


Clinical trails management system

Clinical decision support systems

Data mining systems for population health management

Hospital information systems

E-prescribing systems,

Care management systems

Patient management system

EMR, E HR, CPOE and physician practice management systems

Imaging applications such as like PACS and RIS used to manage images or patient scans.

Telemedicine and M Health Applications.


The most transformative HCIT applications are clinical and administrative information systems. These technology platforms enable clinicians to organize, process, store and share massive amounts of patient data into centralized network systems. From these systems, patient data can share and analyzed. Administrative information systems, also have streamlined cumbersome and inefficient practices of billing through the traditional paper method, by connecting into external networks to process claims and present billing.


Among clinical and administrative information technology, electronic health records (EHR) represents one of the most widely used HCIT applications. According to a recent report to Congress by the Department of Health and Human Service, "EHR adoption among hospitals and physicians, has grown substantially since the passage of HITECH. In 2013, 59 percent of hospitals and 48 percent of physicians had at least a basic EHR system, respective increases of 47 percentage points and 26 percentage points since 2009, the year the HITECH Act signed into law."[1]


A recent study in Health Affairs using 2012 NAMCS[2] data found "40 percent of U.S. office-based physicians had adopted a basic HER."[3] The study also concluded that levels of EHR adoption vary by practice setting. Primary care physicians were significantly more likely to have a basic EHR compared to specialist physicians (42.5% vs. 34.0%). Further practice size and ownership type created variance in EHR adoption. Only 25.6 percent of solo practitioners had a basic EHR compared to 57.7 percent of those in practices of 11 or more physicians.[4]


Moving beyond the technological innovations in the daily business of health care, the manner in which providers engage patients has also changed with technology. One notable innovation is found in the development of Telemedicine technology. Telemedicine refers to the use of telecommunications technology for medical diagnosis and patient care when the client and provider are separated. What these technologies have accomplished is to provide a greater scope of availability of services and in some limited circumstances eliminated the need to have a traditional brick and mortar infrastructures present in order to deliver health care.  Telemedicine as a segment of HCIT is anticipated to experience significant growth between now and 2018, according to a Parks Associates report. The research consultancy estimates that the number of households using Telemedicine consultations will grow from 900,000 in 2013 to 22.6 million in 2018 with revenue expected to jump from under $100 million in 2013 to $13.7 billion in 2018. At present, patients still overwhelmingly prefer face-to-face visits with clinicians to telephone or video consultations according to Parks Associates research.[5]


The Role of Technology in the Cost of Health Care Services

The question of whether or not technology can improve the delivery of health care and/or make it more efficient from a cost perspective remains dependent on the type of technology being employed. For example, innovations in technology used to improve treatment, unrelated to the management and delivery of services has been shown to produce benefits, which outweigh the costs considerably. Estimates show that $100,000 of investment in technological infrastructure can produce one additional year of high quality life for patients.[6] For the technologies mentioned above which related to the management and delivery of health care services it is estimated that the reduction in administrative costs, staffing hours related to the administration and the reduced costs and risks related to medical errors would greatly outweigh any investment in technology and would ultimately reduce costs. Early evidence suggests that use of health information technology (HIT) by healthcare providers may help improve disease management, care coordination, and health outcomes, especially for patients with one or more chronic illnesses. [7]

Although most evidence would generally indicate positive effects on in managing healthcare costs, engaging patients in their care; and collecting data, maximizing the use of home and lower-intensity care settings. Further gains have been seen in facilitating collaboration; improvements in communication and workflow; supporting case management and population-based care. In sum the transformative impact of HCIT has yet to be realized and in this stage of development it is difficult to accurately determine its potential ROI since the benefits from these advances are not easily monetized. However, most conclusions arrive at the fact that the effective delivery of healthcare will occur with a strong technological infrastructure.  







[6] McClellan, M. B., & Kessler, D. P. (Eds.). (2002). Technological change in health care: a global analysis of heart attack. University of Michigan Press.


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