Advancements in medicine have been one cause of better treatments and better outcomes for patients around the world. And now, advancements in technology pave the way for better communication and decision-making when it comes to the practice of medicine.
Health Information Technology
Proper communication has always been a key component of good health care. At one time, communication involved just the basic interaction between a health care provider and their patient. However, technological advances in data storage allow for broader communications and wider applications for health data.
What is Health Information Technology?
Health information technology (HIT) involves the storage, retrieval, sharing, and use of data related to an individual’s health care.
Instead of writing information about doctor visits and treatments in paper records, all information is managed electronically. Computer hardware and software technology are integral pieces to HIT infrastructure.
Health information technology is commonly referred to as health IT or HIT. It is increasingly allowing patients to take more control and ownership of their long-term health outcomes.
Health care professionals are using HIT systems regularly to manage large amounts of data. Still, patients are beginning to see the benefits of taking an active interest in their own health.
Health Information Technology & HIPAA
More health care providers are adopting health information technology into their everyday routines. The use of electronic processing and storage of health data has been linked to:
- Higher quality, more affordable health care
- Fewer medical errors
- Less repetitious paperwork
- Better focus of care and management of patients
There are always uncertainties with new technologies and uncharted territories. Health information technology is no exception, making it important to consider sensitive health data privacy and security.
As health IT becomes more common, health care providers need to consciously work towards protecting information that gets passed from doctor to patient and doctor to doctor. HIPAA rules and regulations are as vital and necessary within health information technology systems as they are elsewhere in the health care industry.
Health Information Technology in the Real World
Many patients have already been exposed to different technology and software that fall under health information technology. Everything from patient portals to online education and consultation gives patients the opportunity to access health information for themselves.
They can decide on their future health or treatment based on firsthand knowledge of their health data and history.
There are multiple examples of health information technology operating in the real world. Many of these examples, such as secure messaging, mobile applications, and personal monitoring capabilities, are finding their way into many healthcare providers' regular infrastructure and routine.
Electronic Health Records:
- EHRs or electronic health records are an expansive, all-encompassing collection of a single person's health data over time.
- Because it is stored online, often in "clouds," EHRs allow doctors and patients to access and use information quickly.
- Doctors can keep track of their patient’s health information in one place without the hassle of paperwork or lost files.
Personal Health Records:
- PHRs, or personal health records, are very similar to EHRs. However, patients get to control the information that goes into their health record as opposed to their doctors or other health care providers.
- A PHR is a handy way for a patient to record important information related to different doctor visits. They can also track other health data like what they eat, how much exercise they get, and their blood pressure or other vital information.
- Personal health records might be easily linked with an electronic health record.
- Electronic prescribing, or e-prescribing, takes the guesswork and headache out of filling prescriptions.
- Doctors can send all types of prescriptions directly to a patient's pharmacy of choice.
- Paper prescriptions can get lost, destroyed, or be difficult to interpret.
- Controlled substance electronic prescriptions are also safer and don't pose the risk of being intercepted or altered.
Privacy & Security:
- Most electronic systems involved in the growing health IT infrastructure provide better protection for health information.
- Although usually stored securely in a closed-off space, paper records can be lost, stolen, or misused under certain circumstances.
- Electronic health information systems can have privacy settings built directly into them. For example, only authorized individuals may have access to sensitive data.
- Biometric or two-step access systems are becoming more popular to prevent misuse of the protected data.
Benefits of Health Information Technology
Health information technology is transforming the manner and quality in which health care providers administer treatment to their patients. There are numerous benefits for doctors and patients when it comes to adopting HIT infrastructure.
1. Faster and More Accurate
When a doctor can send a prescription directly to a pharmacy using e-prescribing, patients save time. Plus, avoidable issues like medication errors can be mitigated by eliminating illegible handwriting on prescriptions. Electronic prescriptions and health records also prevent duplication, allow for a "second set of eyes" to prevent interactions or allergic reactions to medications. Additionally, they provide security for the prescription going directly from the prescriber to the pharmacy.
2. Faster Sharing
Health data is most useful when it can be easily shared from one health care provider to the next. Health IT systems make this possible by giving health care professionals all over America almost instantaneous access to new health data in their network. Rapid sharing of information also benefits patients who can access their own information without waiting to hear from their doctor.
3. Less Paperwork
Patients spend a good portion of their time during a doctor visit filling out paperwork. Oftentimes, these lengthy pages are redundant. Electronic information storage greatly reduces the number of questionnaires a patient has to fill out. In addition, they do not need to explain their personal and family medical history over and over again to different doctors. There is also the ability for the patient to fill out forms and record or update medical and surgical history or pharmacy history before their appointment. This saves the patient, staff, and providers time.
4. Say Goodbye to Unnecessary Tests
Doctors cannot be expected to have perfect recall when it comes to each individual patient's test results. It can be easy to forget ordering a test or to have misplaced the results of another. Health IT puts test results all in one place for every patient. Doctors can access and analyze past tests without needing to order repeats. Patients and doctors save time and money.
5. Follow-Ups That Actually Work
EHRs and other aspects of HIT feature many ways to engage patients. Reminder systems guide patients with emails or text messages to take immediate action for their health and wellness. After a doctor visit, little "follow-ups" push patients to actively manage their own health and ongoing conditions. Reminder systems can also nudge a patient into making an appointment or going to a previously-scheduled one.
6. Safe & Secure Information
Unimaginable events sometimes disrupt and displace people’s lives. An electronic record of a person's entire health history is invaluable in case of something like that. For example, an EHR can point a health care provider in the right direction for a new patient. Natural disasters and other unavoidable catastrophes are events that sometimes force people to see unknown doctors and other health care professionals.
The Untapped Potential of Health Information Technology
Health information technology will be actively expanding and improving in the coming years. As health care professionals and patients become more familiar with different systems, they will probably find new and useful ways to parse health data.
An incredible amount of potential rests in the future of health information technology for doctors and patients alike.
And the end goal of it all is to continue influencing health outcomes for the better.