Progressively, individuals the world over are finding themselves depending on the internet as a source of health-related information. For example, in the United States alone, over 52 million adults are believed to have accessed the internet as a source for medical and health information (CMAJ, 2008).
Consequently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of websites that are seeking to update such individuals on health care information, as well as answering the medical questions that they may want addressed.
Currently, most of the patients are fairly educated and informed and for this reason, it is important that health care providers support, create, promote, and reference electronic medical information sources that are of sound quality (Wager et al, 2005).
As a result of a rapid rise in the demand for bed capacity in hospitals, healthcare programs that are dedicated to the provision of health care to patients at their homes are bound to increase in number over the next few decades.
The benefit of such programs is that they facilitate in the reduction of costs, in the form of avoiding admission to hospitals. Secondly, there is also the issue of reduced risks with respect to adverse effects often linked to time spent in hospital. Besides, there are enormous potential benefits that a patient stands to gain when they receive rehabilitative services in the comfort of their homes (Pollard et al, 2002).
The last few decades have seen a dramatic improvement in the number of health practitioners that have embraced information technology to augment their human skills.
In the United Kingdom for example, a majority of the health care practitioners have installed electronic technology in their offices, and this enables them to enhance the process of decision making regarding the diagnosis of patients ailments, medical subscription, as well as follow-up (Niemi et al, 2008).
In addition, the healthcare providers are also able to get feedback on a regular basis; in as far as their practice is concerned. Nevertheless, there are other countries that have been rather slow in embracing information technology in their healthcare systems, such as Canada.
The internet is turning out to be more web-enabled and ubiquitous by the day, meaning that access to health records maintained electronically shall indeed be the order of the day. Despite this trend, such electronic health records remains literary, isolated from all other forms of medical records, with regard to the ‘distributed continuum of care’. This means that there is still a standardization challenge that has to be overcome (Wager et al, 2005).
The World Wide Web evolution has ensured that a centralized record maintenance system becomes less compelling. In addition, the rise in patient privacy concerns has worked well to augment the use of the internet for the maintenance of patients’ records, and thus acts to assure such patients that their health care providers recognizes their rights to have a controlling effect on their medical health records (CMAJ, 2008).
Consequently, the idea of having one healthcare institution charged with the full responsibilities of completely maintaining the healthcare records of patients also becomes rather remote. Seeing that more and more patients have become internet savvy, it can only be expected that they shall also turn onto the internet to ensure that they get health care services, due to its convenience, flexibility, and effectiveness.
Statistics have it that by 2005, more than 50 million Americans are believed to have sought information regarding health online (CMAJ, 2008). Thanks to the cost benefits that telemedicine accords its users, we are bound to witness an enhanced transmission of this technology, to cover even the remotest markets, as well as a shift in the healthcare delivery, away from the conventional service models of healthcare provision.
In the medical profession, e-mail is now rapidly phasing out the telephone as a mode of communication between physicians, patients, and providers of healthcare.
The impact that electronic communication has had on the health care provision shall often vary, primarily hinging on the balance that exists between practitioners in the health care sector, and whose duty it is to provide information to their patients, and the providers of health care, who demands that they be furnished by the healthcare practitioners with patients’ health information (Shepperd et al, 2009).
E-mail could be the mode of communication that is currently more preferred by family members, colleagues and friends, but a majority of physicians are yet to embrace this from of technology as a form of correspondence between them and their patients, mainly due to concerns of the voluminous messages that they could potentially receive from numerous patients (Wager et al, 2005).
Besides, advices by e-mails do not constitute a reimbursement. Even then, the use of e-mail to respond to questions posed by patients, as well as the provision of healthy care educational materials is bound to drastically lessen time spent by physicians communicating with their patients via say, telephone (Wager et al, 2005).
The arrival of modern technology has given a free rein to a fresh wave of both threats and opportunities in as far as the delivery of healthcare is concerned (CMAJ, 2008 ).
Telemedicine, an expansive umbrella expression for the delivery of ‘medical care at a distance’, has extended far and wide on a global scale, so that now more than ever before, professionals in the healthcare sector are better able to communicate more widely, faster, and in a more direct manner with their colleagues and clients alike, the distance between them notwithstanding.
Thanks to the availability of the internet, websites, email, and multimedia presentations, information technology has been embraced positively in the healthcare provision sector, with each individual vehicles of communication providing a valuable opportunity for the advancement of medical care and medical education, and also collegial support (Pollard et al, 2002).
In as far as technology medicine is concerned technology may never quite eclipse the ‘human factor’. It is capable of and progressively will, nevertheless, expand and extend the human touch.
As per the observations by the Federal Commission on Trade, already the internet has had a profound impact on the way consumers of health care provision are able to access information regarding health receive diagnostics, as well as the purchase of pharmaceuticals (Wager, 2005).
Thanks to a ‘real-time’ application of telemedicine, it is now quite possible for examination records to be transferred, in effect facilitating more than one caregiver and a patient too, and who may all be at different locations, to concurrently assess for example, results of an x-ray examination (Masys, 2002).
Sadly though, ‘real-time’ telemedicine is often limited in its application by such logistical issues as on-demand bandwidth access, and a simultaneous scheduling of all parties that it seeks to address.
Electronic transfer of records
The use of information technology in the management of health care records is not just restricted to health care practitioners, but has also been embraced by pharmacies.
For example, there are those pharmacy information programs that have been installed by various hospitals, and which enables say, a doctor to not only log in, but also access a patient’s profile of medication. Sadly though, not many doctors possess computers in the vicinity of their examining rooms. Furthermore, the use of this program, according to CMAJ (2008), appears to be rather low.
The use of electronic medical record (EMR) by physicians as a communication and documentation tool has been touted to play a significant role in as far as the future of provision of healthcare to patients is concerned. There are a number of advantages that accompanies the use of this technology to healthcare providers, physicians, and patients too (Pollard et al, 2002).
Preferably, EMR ought to be comprehensive, taking into account all the information that could be relevant to a patient, such as the inpatient and outpatient notes, X-ray and laboratory results and pathology and procedure reports (Masys, 2002).
With this kind of connectivity, there is bound to be an improvement in terms of efficiency not only for a physician, but also for the health care team as a whole, by way of facilitating in the retrieval of data, and follow-up care coordination.
The ease with which data of patients may be accessed is also a plus towards enhanced decision making by the health care team regarding their treatment. Ultimately, a most favorable EMR is one that enhances health care delivery quality, as well as the outcome of such a health care delivery (Pollard et al, 2002).
Being able to enter the relevant health care information regarding bed-ridden patients both accurately and quickly not only enhances the provision of health care to such patients, but also facilitates in improved outcome of the health care services they receive.
Both providers of healthcare and physicians could improve their efficiency when they are able to enter or access data from a number of locations that are convenient to them, be it at the outpatient setting, or at a hospital (Eder, 2000).
Progressive notes and key findings could be entered right at the point where patients are receiving care, and this information may then be transferred to either a health care provider, or to the records of a hospital by way of using a wireless network.
The advent of information technology has cut across diverse fields and this includes the provision of healthcare as well.
Thanks to the utilization of electronic technology, as a form of communication between health practitioners, healthcare providers and patients, it is now becoming increasingly possible to offer efficient and effective healthcare to individuals who would otherwise have gone unattended to. This is the impact that telemedicine has had on the healthcare sectors.
In addition, technology has also enabled a faster and more efficient transfer of patients’ records, with the result that diagnostic and documentation procedures are now timely. This means that in the years to come, even the patients located at the most isolated corners of the globe shall have access to healthcare provision; as long as electronic communication is available.
In the not so distant future, telemedicine is poised to become a consumer-led kind of technology. In this regard, the market leaders of this innovative service shall be those who will be in a position to follow and predict the prevailing trends in the market.
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Pollard, J. K, Fry M. E, Rohman S, Santarelli, C., Theodorou A, & Mohoboob, N. Wireless and web-based medical monitoring in the home. Med Inform Internet Med, 27(2002):219-227.
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Shepperd, S., Doll, H., Angus, R. M., Clarke, M. J., Lliffe, S., Kalra, L., Ricauda, N. A., Tibaldi, V. & Wilson, A. Avoiding hospital admission through provision of hospital care at home: a systematic review and meta-analysis of individual patient data. Canadian medical association journal, 180.2 (2009): 175-180.
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