Digitizing Healthcare: How Technology Is Improving Medical Care
A wide variety of digital innovations are revolutionizing healthcare äóî and technology in medicine is here to stay. How are these changes impacting the delivery of care, and what skills are needed to succeed in this bold new world?
The Changing Landscape of Technology in Medicine
It’s no secret that, as a society, technology has become a part of our everyday lives. In fact, almost 60 percent of American adults own a smartphone, and 42 percent of that same population (American adults) owns a tablet computer.
Though technology has been permeating almost every aspect of our lives, until recent years the medical field has been largely unaffected by the rapid pace of technological innovation that is characteristic of the Digital Age. However, this is changing. As geneticist Eric Topol puts it in his book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine, “Medicine is about to go through its biggest shakeup in history.”
This ubiquity of technology is beginning to extend into the medical field. Advances in medical technology are changing medicine by giving physicians more information äóî as well as better, more specific data. Topol has this to say about the changing landscape of medical technology:
This is a new era of medicine, in which each person can be near fully defined at the individual level, instead of how we (have previously) practiced medicine at a population level. We are each unique human beings, but until now there was no way to determine a relevant metric like blood pressure around the clock while a person is sleeping, or at work, or in the midst of an emotional upheaval. This represents the next frontier of the digital revolution, finally getting to the most important but heretofore insulated domain: preserving our health.
New Medical Technology: Innovations
So just what are these new advances in technology? According to Topol, they apply to almost every aspect of health.
We can remotely and continuously monitor each heartbeat, moment-to-moment blood pressure readings, the rate and depth of breathing, body temperature, oxygen concentration in the blood, glucose, brain waves, activity, mood äóî all the things that make us tick,” he says. “For the first time, we can digitize humans.
The main purpose of all of this innovation is the gathering of information, leading to more specific, personalized care. Tech professionals in the medical field can assemble data about individuals from genome sequencing, imaging and biosensors, then integrate it with traditional medical methods to find the best approach to patient care.
The following are just a few of the many innovations that have occurred in medical technology over the past year alone. Some of these leading technologies are still being developed, while others are slowly being introduced into mainstream medical practice.
- The modern hospital experience: Several medical technology companies are looking to update hospital stays to keep pace with the needs of modern patients. For example, NXT Health is improving room design to “eliminate wasteful redundancy and technological clutter that plague many modern healthcare facilities.” To more easily integrate changing technology, these new rooms would feature interchangeable parts that are easily adapted to the specific situation of a patient. The seamless design would have a minimal impact on facility operations while increasing patient comfort and connectivity.
- Surgery simulation: The Roswell Park Cancer Institute has partnered with the University of Buffalo’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to create the Robotic Surgery Simulator (RoSS). This innovation allows real-world views of surgeries while eliminating the need for a live environment to train aspiring surgeons. It gives these medical professionals the space to experiment in a simulated environment, rather than risking making mistakes on real patients.
- Streamlined lab testing: The lab testing process could be changing very soon, due to companies like Theranos, who have “designed a way to run tests with microsamples of blood, one-thousandth the size of a typical blood draw.” This practice will provide a better patient experience while reducing the cost of many widely used lab tests.
- Mitochondrial DNA transfer: Though the first successful transplants of mitochondrial DNA occurred in the late 90s, these procedures are currently becoming a more potentially viable option for the reduction of gene related diseases. The process, in which “two parents contribute normally to in vitro fertilization and a third party contributes the mitochondrial DNA,” is being perfected so that its usefulness will soon be difficult to deny.
- Cloud-based data and software: Applications like referralMD help healthcare providers create referrals digitally and reach millions of patients and providers who are in search of treatment options. The current, paper method of referrals causes almost 50 percent of patient referrals to never actually result in doctor’s visits. This present gap in care “causes patients to lose treatment (and) the healthcare facility to lose money.” Software innovations like these are part of the relatively new field of health informatics, which aims to collect, store, analyze and present health data in a digital format.
The Future of Healthcare Technology
With widespread innovations like these affecting patient care practices, it is not surprising that the way medical records and information are stored and shared is changing as well. These technological advancements are cost-effective and improve the ability of medical professionals to diagnose and treat health issues of all kinds. Three of the main changes that are revolutionizing the future of healthcare are electronic medical records, health information exchange and ICD-10.
Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
Over the past few decades, both medical billing and coding have switched from being paper-based to a computerized format. Electronic medical records offer a wide variety of benefits to the medical field. As Milt Freudenheim, a New York Times contributor, points out, “They can make healthcare more efficient and less expensive, and improve the quality of care by making patients’ medical history easily accessible to all who treat them.”
EHRs have also gained federal funding: The government has given $6.5 billion in incentives. With support from both the public and private sector, doctors benefit from the introduction of EHRs as well. They can access “all the care a patient has ever received and can figure out possible illnesses,” while streamlining the treatment process and preventing unnecessary costs.
Health Information Exchange (HIE)
HIE gives health care professionals and patients the information access they need. It allows for the secure sharing of patient medical history between physicians of all specialties, while also allowing patients to access data about their own health. Because health information exchange creates improved communication and care quality, it provides “safer, more effective care” based on the needs of each specific patient. According to HealthIT.gov, “new payment approaches that stress care coordination and federal financial incentives are all driving the interest and demand for health information exchange.”
ICD-10 and Medical Billing
The International Statistical Classification of Diseases, or ICD-10, is the latest innovation when it comes to diagnostic tools. It is essentially an enhanced medical coding system that includes over 14,000 different codes globally, as well as additional subcategories. This means that patients and insurance companies can be billed for services and procedures in a highly specific way. And in the United States, ICD-10 classification is even more extensive äóî it includes additional codes that push the total to 76,000 ways that medical procedure claims can be processed and paid. This beneficial tool allows countries to retrieve and store all diagnostic information in a streamlined, efficient way. However, healthcare facilities must install new software and train staff to follow ICD-10 guidelines. This is another area where trained health informatics professionals are invaluable.
The Vital Role of Health Informatics
None of this tech innovation would be possible without the field of health informatics. With the rapid development of new technologies, “formidable health information systems” are required in order for medical practices and facilities to keep up. And as technology becomes more and more necessary for the effective functioning of our healthcare system, people proficient in the field of health informatics are more in-demand than ever. The interdisciplinary field combines information technology, health and communications and aims to improve patient care quality and interaction between medical professionals. To put it simply, health informatics is the science that makes the transition to digital healthcare practices possible. Trained professionals in this discipline work to “collect, store, analyze and present health data in a digital format.”
The new approaches to medical coding, health information exchange and billing outlined above require specialized databases that are customized to meet the needs of each physician and medical practice. Professionals in the health informatics field also ensure that patient data is secure. This involves server configuration and assigning strict access credentials. All of these new and emerging requirements fall under the domain of health informatics.
Health Informatics Education and Outlook
Job growth and demand in the health informatics field reflects this newfound importance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 22 percent increase in employment through the year 2022, a rate that is much faster than the national average for all occupations. Individuals who are considering a career in this in-demand field often choose to pursue undergraduate study in health informatics, enabling them to be a valuable part of today’s rapidly changing healthcare system.
Take the Next Step with King University
At King University, students can pursue a comprehensive health informatics education. The online program features a curriculum based in key healthcare administration, information technology and health informatics topics. It qualifies graduates to be part of the transformation of healthcare by teaching them to analyze, design, implement and evaluate the information and communication systems that are both still being developed and currently in use. The program of study includes courses in:
- Healthcare organization
- Information systems
- Project management
- Ethics and security
- Quality improvement
Learn more about the online health informatics program at King University.