How Healthcare IT has Evolved and Why it Matters
Healthcare IT has dramatically changed in the past decade and every indication points to this change continuing in the future. Gone are the days of IT purely focusing on connectivity, email, and file shares. IT has moved into a much more strategic role and is involved in providing solutions to business challenges rather than just working behind the scenes to deliver connectivity to systems.
In many ways, this evolution has happened rapidly over the past decade. Several factors have contributed to this change. One of the most significant impacts to healthcare organizations, and healthcare IT has been the HITECH Act and Meaningful Use which provided incentives (and later penalties) for organizations to move from paper to electronic charting. These changes dramatically changed the way healthcare organizations began to rely upon IT systems and solutions to deliver care to their patients.
In addition, several other changes have allowed IT to evolve and focus on creative ways to deliver solutions and services to meet the demands of the business. Here are four “trends” that are causing IT to evolve and will continue to be an area of focus in the coming years.
The workforce has become more mobile
Technology has allowed the workforce to be more mobile and geographically diverse. Lines are becoming blurred between work and personal space. We see examples of this in healthcare today where providers now review and dictate patient charts remotely, Radiologists remotely read images, coders work offsite to audit and code charts, and appointment scheduling is handled at remote facilities. Physicians can now pull out their mobile device and review the status of a patient, place lab orders, order prescriptions, or request a consult while waiting in line at their favorite coffee shop.
This change in the workforce demands has caused IT to develop and deliver solutions that are not only used inside the healthcare facility but also allow access to these systems while working anywhere. During the days of paper charting, most of this was not possible or was very time-consuming. The workforce will continue to become more mobile, and technology must meet the demands of this ever-changing requirement.
Cybersecurity is now a significant focus
One of the unintended consequences associated with taking a paper chart that was locked in a cabinet behind a closed door and making it electronic so others could access it easier is that now others can access it more easily. This includes individuals that were never intended to view this protected information including employees, vendors, and nefarious individuals outside of the organization.
Healthcare is one of the most targeted industries for cyber attacks due to the rich data that is stored within a medical record. All the literature and studies seem to agree that this will not slow down anytime soon. Organizations have been forced to focus on securing their data while combating ever-increasing threats by domestic and foreign actors.
IT budgets, resources, and roadmaps must now focus on this growing threat while balancing the usability and accessibility of these clinical systems for those caring for the patients. It is very common for healthcare organization Boards to require an IT update that contains a cybersecurity assessment and plan. Cybersecurity has visibility at the highest levels of the organization, and IT needs to continue to find ways to secure and protect this critical information. Fewer things can damage the reputation of an organization quicker than news of a cyber breach. Patients entrust us with their most valuable information, and we have a responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to protect and secure that information.
“Consumerization” of technology
Look at any business magazine or website, and you will see many of the world’s leading technology companies continuing to invest in healthcare. In my article entitled 5 Healthcare Trends to Watch, I list consumer health technology as one of the fastest growing areas in healthcare today. The potential for this is still not fully known today, but we do know that this will continue to be a huge area of investment in years to come. From wearables to internet-enabled medical equipment to home health devices, there will be a need to collect this data and use it to promote wellness and better health care.
Technology that connects patients to their providers or allows the patient to manage the care themselves will continue to push IT to adopt and embrace these technologies. Many consumers want to be actively involved in their healthcare, and these technologies will pave the way for many of us to do so. IT can and should help leverage technology to open the way for many of these exciting new ideas and solutions.
We have become dependent upon technology to deliver patient care
Anyone who has experienced planned or unplanned IT downtimes knows how dependent hospitals and health systems have become on the technology IT provides. It is becoming increasingly more important that organizations plan drills to practice their “downtime procedures”. Many of the newer employees entering the workforce will now need to learn how to care for patients using manual (paper) downtime procedures. As the dependence on IT systems continue to grow, it will be even more important to ensure system integration, data sharing, and system availability are priorities.
These “trends” will continue to force a change in the workplace and will have a significant impact on the way IT continues to deliver value for their respective organization and our patients. IT must continue to adapt and change to ensure it is relevant and fulfilling the needs of the business. The future is bright for healthcare IT and opportunities abound. It’s up to us to embrace these changes and help transform healthcare into a more efficient provider and patient-friendly industry.
“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”
-Gen. Eric Shinseski