Medicine is the healing profession. Its mission is to comfort, care, restore patients to health whenever possible, and to ease suffering when it is not. It doesn’t get more humane than that.
But medicine is also a science, and to do their healing work, healthcare providers must position themselves at the cutting edge of scientific learning and practice. Now, more than ever, that means integrating healthcare IT into patient care — but how, exactly, is this ever-evolving technology impacting patients and the practitioners who serve them?
Diagnostics and Treatment Planning
As much as we like to imagine medicine as a precise science, the reality is that illnesses and injuries rarely identify themselves with flashing red signs that make diagnosis and treatment planning indisputable.
Far more often than not, diagnosing patients and devising care strategies is a matter of analysis and interpretation. To do that effectively, healthcare providers need data, and lots of it.
That’s where healthcare IT comes in. Practitioners today must not only understand how to deliver the personal, hands-on, empathic care patients need, but they also must have the technological savvy to make optimal use of health information systems.
When it comes to diagnosis and treatment planning, health information systems work on two primary levels. On the micro-level, they provide caregivers with comprehensive data on the patient. With the touch of a button, healthcare providers can instantly and securely access comprehensive data on the patient’s medical history in the form of electronic health records (EHR).
This level of detail on the patient’s health background can mean all the difference in making a quick and accurate diagnosis and designing an effective, individualized treatment plan.
But health IT does more than just improve patient care on the micro-level. On the macro level, anonymized patient data is collected, curated, and absorbed into a repository of medical knowledge that care providers, researchers, and public health officials worldwide can access anywhere. They use this information to better understand diseases, their signs, and how to both treat and prevent them.
Big Data in healthcare provides practitioners with immediate access to billions of data points. With such an immense wealth of information at their fingertips, healthcare providers are better able to identify even the most obscure conditions and formulate care strategies based on evidence-supported best practices.
Accessing and Empowering Patients
In addition to supporting data-driven decision-making, health IT also enables healthcare providers to more effectively access and empower their patients. A prime example of this is the ascendancy of telehealth.
When you think of telehealth, chances are the first image that comes to mind is of patients and healthcare providers connecting through telephone or video conference. To be sure, this is the principal function of telehealth, and its importance cannot be overstated.
Telemedicine, more specifically, is the aspect of telehealth that deals specifically with “clinical” interaction between patients and caregivers using communication technologies (including but not limited to phone, video, email, and even text). This technology has dramatically increased patients’ access to consistent, high-quality healthcare.
Telemedicine allows patients in rural areas, patients who may lack reliable transportation, and patients with health conditions that make it difficult or unsafe to leave their homes to receive care whenever and wherever they need it.
Just as promising, however, are the rapidly growing inventories of mHealth technologies which allow patients and healthcare providers alike to monitor their health status across an array of functions, from remote EKGs and EEGs to sleep, nutrition, and activity trackers.
These devices help mitigate the effects of the ongoing labor shortage in healthcare by providing continuous, real-time patient monitoring from the comfort of the patients’ homes, thus preserving space and resources for patients who need acute care in clinics and hospitals.
Best of all, through such devices, patients may enjoy greater transparency regarding their health status, often enabling them to monitor different aspects of their health such as their blood pressure, glucose levels, or dietary and sleep patterns. The result is a more informed, empowered, and accountable patient.
Today’s health IT innovations have truly ushered in a brave new world of patient care. These technologies have optimized processes for diagnosing and treating illness and injury through data-driven decision-making. Best of all, they have dramatically increased patients’ access to consistent, quality care, while enabling practitioners to monitor patients whenever and wherever patients need it.