The reach of technological innovation continues to grow, changing all industries as it evolves. In healthcare, technology is increasingly playing a role in almost all processes, from patient registration to data monitoring, from lab tests to self-care tools.
Devices like smartphones and tablets are starting to replace conventional monitoring and recording systems, and people are now given the option of undergoing a full consultation in the privacy of their own homes. Technological advancements in healthcare have contributed to services being taken out of the confines of hospital walls and integrating them with user-friendly, accessible devices.
The following are ten technological advancements in healthcare that have emerged over the last ten years.
1. The electronic health record. In 2009, only 16 percent of U.S. hospitals were using an EHR. By 2013, about 80 percent of hospitals eligible for CMS’ meaningful use incentives program had incorporated an EHR into their organizations. “For such a long time we had such disparate systems, meaning you had one system that did pharmacy, one did orders, one that did documentation,” says Jeff Sturman, partner at Franklin, Tenn.-based Cumberland Consulting Group. “Integrating these systems into a single platform, or at least a more structured platform, has allowed more integrated and efficient care for patients,” he says.
While the EHR has already created big strides in the centralization and efficiency of patient information, it can also be used as a data and population health tool for the future. “There’s going to be a big cultural shift over the next several years of data-driven medicine,” says Waco Hoover, CEO of the Institute for Health Technology Transformation in New York. “Historically, that hasn’t been a big part of how medicine is practiced. Physicians go to medical school and residencies, but each organization has its own unique ways they do things. That’s one of the reasons we see varied care all over the country. When data is what we’re making decisions off of, that’s going to change and improve outcomes of the consistency of medicine delivered.”
2. mHealth. Mobile health is freeing healthcare devices of wires and cords and enabling physicians and patients alike to check on healthcare processes on-the-go. An R&R Market Research report estimates the global mHealth market will reach $20.7 billion by 2019, indicating it is only becoming bigger and more prevalent. Smartphones and tablets allow healthcare providers to more freely access and send information. Physicians and service providers can use mHealth tools for orders, documentation and simply to reach more information when with patients, Mr. Sturman says.
However, mHealth is not only about wireless connectivity. It has also become a tool that allows patients to become active players in their treatment by connecting communication with biometrics, says Gopal Chopra, MD, CEO of PINGMD, and associate professor at Duke University Fuqua School of Business in Durham, N.C. “Now I can make my bathroom scale wireless. I can make my blood pressure mount wireless. I can take an EKG and put it to my smartphone and transfer that wirelessly,” he says. “mHealth has the opportunity to take healthcare monitoring out of the office, out of the lab and basically as a part of your life.”
3. Telemedicine/telehealth. Studies consistently show the benefit of telehealth, especially in rural settings that do not have access to the same resources metropolitan areas may have. A large-scale study published in CHEST Journal shows patients in an intensive care unit equipped with telehealth services were discharged from the ICU 20 percent more quickly and saw a 26 percent lower mortality rate than patients in a regular ICU. Adam Higman, vice president of Soyring Consulting in St. Petersburg, Fla., says while telemedicine is not necessarily a new development, it is a growing field, and its scope of possibility is expanding.
The cost benefits of telehealth can’t be ignored either, Mr. Hoover says. For example, Indianapolis-based health insurer WellPoint rolled out a video consultation program in February 2013 where patients can receive a full assessment through a video chat with a physician. Claims are automatically generated, but the fees are reduced to factor out traditional office costs. Setting the actual healthcare cost aside, Mr. Hoover says these telemedicine clinics will also reduce time out of office costs for employees and employers by eliminating the need to leave work to go to a primary care office.
4. Portal technology. Patients are increasingly becoming active players in their own healthcare, and portal technology is one tool helping them to do so. Portal technology allows physicians and patients to access medical records and interact online. Mr. Sturman says this type of technology allows patients to become more closely involved and better educated about their care. In addition to increasing access and availability of medical information, Mr. Hoover adds that portal technology can be a source of empowerment and responsibility for patients. “It’s powerful because a patient can be an extraordinary ally in their care. They catch errors,” he says. “It empowers the patient and adds a degree of power in care where they can become an active participant.”