Over the next decade, we can expect to see profound changes in the delivery of healthcare. Driven not by a contentious political environment, but by new IT innovations that have the potential to lower costs and improve the quality of healthcare. These IT innovations are coming at a macro level, with larger sets of data available to research and develop new treatments and, at a micro level, transforming the care that patients receive from their providers.
Today’s New Reality
Some innovative health IT solutions that are now appearing in healthcare activities and operations might have seemed like science fiction only a short while ago:
- Virtual and augmented reality. By building virtual 3-dimensional models of the human body, physicians and surgeons can explore situations and possibilities to enhance a patient’s condition, without necessarily performing invasive surgery. Augmented reality allows virtual constructs to overlay real life situations, for example, showing caregivers how to inspect a patient’s condition, apply a specific treatment.
- Remote surgery. While the robotics required to mirror a surgeon’s hand movements many miles away is a science in itself, IT systems and networks connect the remote operating table and the local expertise. Advances in sophistication, speed and security in these IT components make it possible to extend patient care beyond geographical boundaries.
- Predictive and prescriptive analytics. Knowing how a patient’s health will change before that change occurs and receiving clear recommendations on how best to help patients are the promises, respectively, of predictive and prescriptive analytics. These possibilities depend on the acquisition, management and processing of relevant big data, which in turn require data science skills, smart software, or both.
- Patient health status anytime, anywhere. Connected devices, whether implants, wearables, or mobile computing devices, allow consumer and patient health status, actions, changes and alerts to be monitored by medical experts and caregivers. While patient privacy and medical information confidentiality remain essential, this kind of remote patient intelligence can make all the difference in having emergency services intervene in time during critical situations.
Healthcare IT Foundations for Today and Tomorrow
Other, behind the scenes IT solutions may be less glamorous, but are as important for helping healthcare to modernize and improve:
- Electronic health record systems. EHR systems are still innovative for many healthcare entities. The reorganization of healthcare around the patient (patient-centric healthcare) will mean IT departments must innovate further to ensure that each EHR system meets the needs of all the authorized healthcare actors who access it.
- Cloud connectivity. Although cloud computing may not always align with HIPAA security requirements, it offers extensible, affordable resources for stocking and processing anonymized data, for example. For some healthcare entities, it may be the only reasonable way to process big data and develop an analytics system that can then be brought back to secure, on-premises servers for use with confidential patient data.
- Supply chain tracking. Supply chain IT has a lot to offer hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. One example is radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to track the storage, delivery and use of healthcare products of practically any kind, including surgical tools that can be automatically counted before and after an operation to make sure no item has been left inside a patient by mistake.
- DevOps. Healthcare markets and requirements are changing as fast as many other sectors. IT applications, whether for internal or external use, must be frequently updated. Healthcare entities cannot afford to go through lengthy cycles of development, integration, transfer to production and bug fixing. By having development and operations work together using new IT technology for continuous integration, configuration management and automated deployment, healthcare IT departments have a significantly better chance of keeping up with release requirements.
Check with Stakeholders Before Innovating in Health IT
Innovation in health IT solutions also comes with its own “health warning.” Patient requirements must come first. Technological innovation is only appropriate if it helps improve healthcare in quality, affordability, or both. Direct involvement of stakeholders, including physicians, nursing staff, hospital administration, health insurance companies and, of course, patients, is the best way to make sure that IT innovations are relevant and useful from their initial design to their final release and that return on investment (or return on innovation) meets expectations.