Reflecting on IT’s Transformation of Healthcare

health it week pictureAs we celebrate National Health IT Week, it is incredible to realize how health technology tools are transforming every facet of patient care. From telehealth, to 3D printers to artificial intelligence, the explosion of personalized health devices redefines the dynamics of patient treatment and interactions.

However, we still fall short in comparison to other industries, particularly in terms of consistent patient information access, and the lack of incentive for industry collaboration to achieve smooth, interoperable data transfers. This week, we strike a balance between applauding our progress, yet refusing to rest on our laurels.

Empowering people to engage with care

The past decade has seen a shift from financial to clinical systems and from retrospective to real-time measurements. We have brought the patient front and center in their own care, created more flexible, self-care mobile solutions, and have opened up physician access with connectivity.

  • Chronic disease care: For decades, diabetes patients had to prick their fingers to test their blood sugar. Now, patients can put patches on their arm and download their blood sugar levels onto their smart phones. Patients with heart disease can wear a necklace that connects to four electrodes on their chest so we can noninvasively get their cardiac output. These technologies are revolutionary for patient education and engagement, and weave care management into people’s everyday lives.
  • Personal health devices: With the rapid adoption of personal medical devices, one’s daily health decisions – from sleep, to food, to exercise – are now tracked and counted. From mobile blood pressure cuffs to smart watches, this self-service of healthy living is driving a demand for greater control by informing patients down to the minute about the status of their health.
  • Mobility: For a long time, we struggled to figure out how we can fit more of those clunky computer screens into our already-cramped hospitals. Over the years, we have miniaturized computers into tablets and smart phones. This has created new realms of previously unimaginable flexibility and mobility for our clinicians, enhancing their productivity and improving communication between care teams.
  • Social media: The power of social media should not be underestimated. Research has shown the positive impact of social support on patient outcomes. People depend on these networks, whether they are dealing with a new diagnosis, or are struggling with a chronic illness or grief.

What comes next?

Despite the progress made, the healthcare industry is experiencing the symptoms of an environment that experienced explosive growth, as opposed to maturing slowly in the following ways:

  • Consistency: Health IT innovations have been uneven in their geographical penetration. For example, while physicians in some parts of the country can access waveforms on their mobile device from anywhere at any time to monitor a mother in labor, many other physicians still have to drive to the hospital to look at the strip. This has led to inconsistent levels of care quality and satisfaction.
  • Data accessibility: Access to data should be similar to our everyday access to electricity: everyone has their own devices, but they’re all powered by the same plug. In healthcare, everyone has their own product, but there is no requirement that they speak to one another. When it is easier to transfer a dollar on a mobile banking app or connect two telephones across the globe than it is to transfer a medical record, we are clearly behind the curve. While the endeavor of interoperability should not be trivialized, patient data is the key to patient care and should be readily accessible at any given moment.
  • Collaboration: Health IT is only as effective as its reach, and its reach only goes as far as our ability to work together. There must be an alignment of incentives for effective cooperation to occur among the various players in the industry. This will fuel integration and allow for smooth data transitions.

While there are still challenges to overcome, we have made great strides in disrupting the traditional hospital-centric model, and the future promises to be just as exciting. In particular, there is reason for optimism as previously silent stakeholders begin to speak up and call for collaboration.