Innovation in healthcare takes many forms; less invasive surgical procedures, more accurate diagnostics, new drugs, improved equipment, the list goes on. Today one of the most exciting areas of healthcare innovation is in the use of new technology able to streamline medical care, cut down on time consuming administrative tasks and give patients better outcomes.
Electronic Health Records
Electronic health records offer many benefits for providers and for patients.
Clear and easy to use systems allow patient information to be accessed immediately and then updated in real time. This saves valuable time when there is urgency in making the right clinical decision during emergency treatment.
A patient arriving unconscious in the ER, accompanied only by their purse or wallet can be identified via their driver’s license or social security card and in a matter of moments their entire medical history can be in the hands of their doctors.
Having knowledge of any allergies, drug reactions, existing conditions and current medications, enables physicians to have a clear picture of the patient before them and takes some of the guesswork out of ordering appropriate treatments.
Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that emergency room patients whose records were available electronically were seen around one hour faster than patients who had to wait for their records to be faxed over to the hospital. They were also less likely to undergo unnecessary tests like MRI’s, x-rays and CT scans, and fast access to medical records also resulted in a reduction in their likelihood of needing to be admitted to the hospital.
Electronic records make entering information fast, cutting down the number of hours that providers need to devote to maintaining patient files, and increasing the amount of time they can spend diagnosing and treating their patients.
Technology can also act as a failsafe, making sure that tests aren’t unnecessarily duplicated, wasting both time and money, and that any drugs prescribed are safe for the patient. Electronic health records remove the necessity for a patient to remember every fact about their medical history, which eliminates problems that can ensue because of undisclosed pertinent information.
The Veterans Administration makes good use of this technology, through a system called VistA. All veteran’s hospitals across the country share electronic records, meaning that even when veterans are far from home, the hospital treating them will have the same information about the patient as their nearest veteran’s hospital.
Health apps can help people take an informed and proactive approach to their healthcare. From popular commercial apps like Fitbits that count calories and log activity levels for those who want to keep themselves out of their doctor’s office for as long as possible, to more specialized apps for those who are working with their doctor to manage their health conditions.
Specialized apps and digital healthcare design solutions can monitor blood pressure and heart rate. For diabetics needing to incorporate lifestyle changes to control their condition, apps can relay information about food eaten and the resulting blood sugar reading back to their physician, allowing doctors and dietitians to more effectively tailor a program to obtain optimum results for each patient.
More general apps deliver information to people when they need it the most, allowing the best first aid choices to be made, as well as helping people determine if their symptoms are minor and suitable for home treatment with some basic medication from their local pharmacy, or if they should book an appointment with their doctor.
When used appropriately, these information based apps can prevent costly doctors’ visits for minor complaints, as well as warn users when the symptoms they were only mildly concerned about could be something more serious.
Security of Information
While electronic records and health apps offer tremendous benefits, there is always the potential for unauthorized access to the information contained in databases. Providers should make sure that their systems are secured using the latest protocols, and users of apps independent of their healthcare provider’s system should satisfy themselves that the app provider takes privacy seriously.
One upside, from a security point of view, of information being transmitted and stored beyond one hospital or one doctor’s office is that records are backed up in multiple locations. Should a primary care physician shut their office or suffer fire or flood damage, patient records are still instantly accessible. In large scale emergencies (hurricane Katrina for example) that require evacuation of patients, if electronic records are tied to a central system then there is no danger of vital records going missing, nor is there any need for staff to waste time gathering files or transmitting information to the receiving facilities when they could be helping to move patients out of danger instead.
Today’s technology offers huge efficiency savings which should lead to reduced medical bills for patients, and better treatment outcomes. Healthcare providers with the ability to retrieve information instantly and use that information to guide their decisions can provide better patient care, and staff able to streamline their workflows thanks to technology can spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with their patients, as well as having more time available to keep their skills and knowledge up to date.