The Impact of Technology in Healthcare
There are no two ways about it: technological developments in healthcare have saved countless patients and are continuously improving our quality of life. Not only that, but technology in the medical field has had a massive impact on nearly all processes and practices of healthcare professionals.
In this article, we look at the benefits and disadvantages of technology in healthcare and their relationship to both patients and professionals alike.
Digitalization of Health Records
Electronic Health Records (EHRs) replacing outdated paper records has been a massive game changer for everyone in the medical world. Medical assistants to medical coding professionals to registered nurses are just a handful of roles that have been impacted by this industry-wide implementation.
Nurses and technicians are responsible for inputting patient data into a central, digitized system. Medical billers and coders appointments update patient records with diagnostic codes (such as test results) and submit medical claims to insurance companies.
Not only can patients access their records at the click of a button, but it’s also ensured that mistakes are caught more quickly (without needing to pore over unreadable physicians’ handwriting).
Among the many benefits that electronic health records have brought to healthcare include:
Greater Patient Care
EHR can automatically alert the treating physician to potential issues (such as allergies or intolerances to certain medicines). EHRs can be accessed from nearly any medical facility, which is extremely useful for doctors assessing non-local patients (and crucial if the patient is unresponsive).
Improved Public Health
EHRs provide invaluable data to clinical researchers, helping to advance medical knowledge and the development of treatments for common health problems (like viral outbreaks).
A standardized health IT system can provide insights into how widespread an outbreak is, enabling preventative measures (such as increased flu shot production) to be put in place much more quickly.
Ease of Workflow
Medical billers and coders are some of the most-impacted allied health workers, and – according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – demand for this sector is expected to increase by 13% from 2016 to 2026. The introduction of EHRs has only made life easier for medical billers and coders.
Entering data into a computerized system is much less time-consuming than paper-based methods, and it reduces the risk of errors in patient data and financial details. Accessing patient records digitally also allows medical coding experts to work from home, increasing efficiency and productivity.
Lower Healthcare Costs
According to a study from the University of Michigan, shifting from paper to electronic health records reduced the cost of outpatient care by 3%. These researchers estimated this as $5.14 in savings per patient each month. In a large city hospital network, that amount is incalculable.
Disadvantages of Electronic Health Records
Theoretically, shifting to EHRs should change everything for the better. Unfortunately, there are some kinks that still need to be ironed out. Rather than a records system that works fluidly, many networks lack interconnectivity, which means that many don’t have the ability to communicate between one another. Sometimes, this lack of communication can put patients’ health in danger.
Big Data and The Cloud
‘Big Data’ is the buzzword of the digital age, and often intertwined with electronic health records. The term refers to enormous amounts of data which are collected, processed, and used for analytics.
When analyzed by data experts, this information has multiple benefits, such as:
- Reducing healthcare costs
- Predicting epidemics
- Avoiding preventable deaths
- Improving quality of life
- Reducing healthcare waste
- Improving efficiency and quality of care
- Developing new drugs and treatments
Healthcare collects and stores huge amounts of data every single second (one research study can amount to 100 terabytes of data), so these facilities require expandable, cost-effective, and safe storage solutions. This is where The Cloud comes in.
The Cloud then uses hardware and software to deliver services across the internet. Healthcare professionals and patients are both able to access certain data and use applications from any internet-enabled device – anywhere in the world.
Better and Safer Data Storage
Cloud computer technology allows for masses of information to be stored at an unbelievably low cost, all without the limitations (and expense) of additional hardware or servers. With an increased reliance on EHR systems, Cloud storage protects against the loss of sensitive data with strong backup and recovery services.
Improved Access to Big Data
The Cloud is an invaluable tool for medical research and sharing medical information. Back in 2014, it was primarily used to exchange health information and store data, but by 2016, its capabilities were better understood. From mobilizing workforces to sharing big data to improve the accuracy of research studies, this full range of functions is changing the medical landscape.
Dangers Associated with Artificial Intelligence in Medicine
We can’t deny the many advantages of technology in healthcare, but as with all tech breakthroughs, there are a handful of issues that require attention
Centralized Data Point
While having a central point for all data information is extremely useful, overdependence may result in serious repercussions if there are connectivity or bandwidth problems.
However, the main concern rising from Cloud computing technology and increased mobile use is security and data protection.
The Risk of Medical Records Hacking
In 2015, hackers stole records for almost 80 million Anthem customers and employees, the second-largest health insurance company in the US. Only names and addresses were stolen, (no details of illnesses or treatments were exposed), but if this can occur to an insurance giant such as Anthem, it raises questions about how safe patient records really are in your local clinic.
Patient records are apparently big business, with stolen health credentials fetching upwards of $10 each – about 10 or 20 times the value of a credit card number. The information on these records can then be used to create fake IDs (to purchase medical equipment/drugs or submit false insurance claims).
Information and Communication Technology
As of 2019, approximately 95% of Americans have a mobile phone of some kind, and like any sector, healthcare has had to transform its processes to connect with people easily and efficiently.
Information and communication technology (ICT) link healthcare professionals – as well as professionals with patients. Email, smartphones, telemedicine, and telemonitoring systems are all used to share information and are especially useful for more rural areas and locations with a lack of facilities and/or specialists.
From diagnostics to management, counseling, education, and support, there’s seemingly no end to custom healthcare software development.
Disadvantages of Information and Communication in Healthcare
While these technological developments offer countless benefits, the number one concern revolves around increasingly impersonal patient-doctor interactions. Studies, however, state that artificial intelligence might be able to free up a doctor’s time, affording them more time to interact with their patients. Only time will tell, but the data is promising.
The terms ‘telemedicine’ and ‘telehealth’ can be used to refer to two-way video consultations (or the transmission of healthcare data like electrocardiograms). Telemedicine can be used in many fields, especially in a sector like cardiovascular healthcare.
Telemonitoring technology can monitor vital signs, symptoms, and even blood levels from a remote location. Future cardiac monitor technicians will be happy to learn that AliveCor is developing a device to detect potassium blood levels to prevent hyperkalemia. Though not yet approved by the FDA, this is a perfect example of how technology is meeting the needs of at-risk patients.
What Are The Benefits of Telemedicine?
Telehealth is improving allied healthcare jobs, including some of the top-paying roles in the field. The implementation of these telemedicine options means fewer patients in waiting rooms and less pressure on front desk teams.
Other benefits include:
- Shorter patient waiting times
- Improved access in rural areas
- Improved efficiency, leading to savings
Mobile health (or ‘m-health’) refers to healthcare and medical information that’s supported by mobile technology. In 2015, approximately 80% of physicians used mobile devices and medical apps, and 25% applied them to providing patient care.
The Advantages of Using Mobile Equipment
From accessing a patient’s EHR, reviewing medical histories, writing follow-up emails, and sending prescriptions to pharmacies, smartphones allow practitioners to complete tasks from nearly everywhere in the world.
Improved communication aids the role of medical billers, allowing them to send text message alerts about payment schedules and outstanding bills. Mobile communication can also cut down on snail mail, paper use, and unnecessary time spent on phone calls.
The Disadvantages of Mobility
Even with the most advanced technology, human error can’t be erased completely. Mobile devices can be easily lost or stolen, and they’re also vulnerable to hacking, malware, and viruses (especially if the devices are used on unsecured internet connections).
Mobile App Technology in the Medical Field
There’s an app for almost everything these days, and healthcare apps are constantly being developed for both healthcare and patient use. As one of the fastest-growing markets in mobile application development, there are a plethora to choose from – perhaps the greatest downside!
What Do Mobile Health Apps Do?
Mobile health apps offer greater flexibility to all parties. They’re one of the most inexpensive ways for facilities to provide stronger services to their patients.
Some work to create better health awareness while others facilitate communication between patient and care providers. Some of the areas that ‘m-health’ apps assist with include:
- Chronic care management
- Medication management
- Medical reference
- Personal health records
- Women’s health
- Fitness and weight-loss
- Mental health
The Verdict on Healthcare Technology
Despite the obvious concerns (and even dangers), the importance of technology in healthcare means that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.