The role of information technology has only been growing over the period of time in virtually every aspect of the life of human beings. The case with healthcare should be no different. But in reality very little practical application of IT that will open up the possibilities of improved and more efficient health care actually takes place. Sadly many healthcare professionals still do not see the importance of bringing in information technology into their profession and practice. This can only be done through healthcare initiatives which should be effectively implemented though proper leadership from the concerned authorities. Another compelling reason for IT integration is the unusually high cost of health care in the United States part of which is caused by wastage and heavy use of the paper system even today. (Bauer, (n.d)).
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This paper will propose a few important healthcare initiatives that can be effectively implemented in any healthcare organization. Once implemented, it will improve performance across all parameters making healthcare more efficient, focused, less wasteful and more beneficial to the patient.
The best way to refer to the integration of information technology and healthcare is by the term eHealth. This is because anything associated with IT is being referred in this way. A few examples would be e-mail, e-commerce and e-solutions. according to a publication by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, E-health can be defined as “an emerging field in the intersection of medical informatics, public health and business, referring to health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies.” (Eysenbach, 2001). Before moving on to the actual implementation initiatives, it will be pertinent to review the elements that should be present for it to be effective. The article calls it the ten E’s of eHealth (Plus an additional E added at the end).
IT can increase efficiency by reducing wastage and avoiding duplication of content. It is faster and easily accessible to the necessary personnel.
Comparative studies can be made as to the benefits of the different components in the health care system. A quality assurance system can be built into the IT infrastructure.
Implementation should not be done just because it is the “in thing” in health care. There should be firm evidence that the initiative will deliver what it has promised to do.
IT will help empowerment of patients and consumers to verify or get more information on diseases and their treatments.
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The IT initiative should encourage the relationship between the patient and the health care provider to grow.
The growing knowledge and research evidence in the field can be easily made available to physicians and other healthcare personnel. IT helps provide continuing medical education.
IT based healthcare initiatives can cross geographical boundaries. Patients can get online help from qualified personnel effectively eliminating geographical boundaries.
The increased relationship between patient and healthcare provider should not result in the erosion of ethics. The possibility of misuse of patient information is a possibility because of easier access to it.
This refers to the affordability of this new IT enabled healthcare system. IT integration should essentially bring down the cost of treatment and not increase it.
Easy to use
Most healthcare professionals have poor IT knowledge and hence the system should be user friendly and even fun to use.
Keeping the above mentioned points in mind the following healthcare initiatives are proposed here. It includes introducing an electronic medical record system (EMR) and Patient Billing and Registration System. Other initiatives are e-prescribing, educating physicians and other healthcare personnel on the importance of IT in medicine and also training them in usage of the implemented systems.
Electronic medical record system (EMR)
This is also referred to as electronic health record system. This software can be custom made or purchased from a software company as a readymade package. A typical package will include the following facilities in the software. They include patient billing, document management, scheduling of appointments, writing prescriptions, regulatory and tax compliance, integration with the laboratory, medical transcription, verification of eligibility (like insurance and income claims), calculations, sending reminders to patients about appointments, dosage etc., referrals to and from other physicians, and a portal to relevant medical knowledge websites.
According to a study published by The Policy Journal of the Health Sphere, it is estimated that “15–20 percent of U.S. physicians’ offices and 20–25 percent of hospitals have adopted such systems.” (Hillestad et al, 2005). This study also states that nearly 81 billion USD can be saved annually in a fully integrated IT and health system in the country which has the “world’s largest, most inefficient information enterprise”.
Patient Billing and registration systems
If a comprehensive medical record system is not feasible, an electronic patient billing and registration system can be a temporary option. This can be integrated at a later stage when the above system is implemented. Again commercial packages are available that can incorporate all patient details, treatment and drug costs, payments, amount receivable, date of admission, room rent details and all other relevant information. This can be accessed by all physicians apart from the accounts and front office.
“E-prescribing is a method by which prescriptions are electronically generated via the utilization of software and a network that has the capabilities to transmit the prescription to participating pharmacies.” (Executive briefing – Reaping the benefits of E-prescribing: E-prescribing, 2008). It has many benefits and its benefits far outweigh its cost of implementation. Prescription errors can be eliminated due to illegible handwriting of doctors. Inadvertent prescription of drugs to patients with adverse reactions (from the drug) can be avoided by built in warning systems. Estimates show that there are up to 1.5 million cases of adverse reactions per year. Moreover the government has passed a bill that makes e-prescribing mandatory in the country and will be enforced from 2009 onwards.
The following initiatives are more of leadership based than technical. Physicians and other health personnel should be educated on the importance of using IT related medical systems. They should be motivated to become an integral part of the new system. Basic training in IT, the software and computers should be periodically provided. Rewards, recognitions etc can be given to departments and physicians who successfully adapt to the new changes.
The benefits of an IT integrated medical system are enormous and should not be treated in a light manner. It is proposed that the above initiatives be implemented at the earliest after a careful study of available software and systems in the market.
- Bauer, Jeffrey. C. (n.d). Strategic planning and information technology: Back to the future all over again. Journal of Healthcare Information Management, 19 (3).
- Executive briefing – Reaping the benefits of E-prescribing: E-prescribing. (2008). ECG Management Consultants.
- Eysenbach G. (2001). What is E-Health: Introduction. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 3 (2). Web.
- Hillestad, Richard., et al. (2005). Can electronic medical record systems transform health care? Potential health benefits, savings, and costs. Health Affairs The Policy Journal Of Health Sphere, 24(5).