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Even among very knowledgeable people, the concept of health information technology is often equated with its most familiar element, “electronic health records.” Adoption of electronic health records are a critical first step to realizing the transformational power of Health IT – but getting out of paper enables even greater HIT capabilities.
The fact that health record data can now be digitized is what allows it to move. With the help of other technologies, that same information can be integrated with multiple information sources, analyzed and presented in ways that produce knowledge, stimulate coordinated actions between and across caregivers and more fully engage patients in their care decisions.
[Related: A practical guide to beginning your EMR journey.]
Health IT has the power to improve the health care system to result in safer and more efficient care; care that’s more convenient for patients and health providers alike.
Here are nine examples of health IT — what it means, why it matters, and why you should care. Put simply, health IT does the following:
1. Reduces medical errors. When designed appropriately and implemented correctly by trained professionals, Health IT helps to identify potential mistakes, such as flagging possible interactions between prescribed medications that may cause serious complications.
2. Improves collaboration throughout the health care system. Digitized health information can move, integrate and paint a real-time picture of the whole person, creating increased knowledge, dialogue and collaboration among the patient and his or her physicians, specialists, nurses and technicians. This leads to improved patient-centered understanding and coordinated action. It can also enhance preventative care, by automating a reminder system for certain tests like mammograms.
3. Facilitates better patient-care transition. As patients move from the one care setting to another—going home from the hospital, or from one practice to another—health IT can facilitate a seamless transition from one stage of care to the next and help to ensure that patients get the treatment and medicine they need without delays or mix-ups.
4. Enables faster, better emergency care. When seconds can make the difference, today’s technology allows results from tests conducted by first responders to be sent wirelessly to doctors in the emergency departments, allowing physicians to be ready and waiting with a plan of action when the patient arrives. Health IT also can facilitate access to an incoming patient’s health information—even if the patient is incapacitated—alerting providers of any existing conditions, allergies and prescriptions.
5. Enables patients and their families to participate in care decisions. Health IT provides patients more access to their medical information and information about their health care options, which empowers them to become informed and educated advocates for their own care. At the same time, as patients have more access to their medical information and use health IT to make decisions, their families—who play a critical role in their care — can play a more active, personal role. In addition, health IT allows for care customized to each patient’s unique situation, whether that means allowing families access to information to help in decision-making, or ensuring information is culturally appropriate.
6. Makes care more convenient for patients. Health IT enables online appointment scheduling, online wait time displays for emergency departments, and the convenience of e-mailing your doctor. Also with health IT, a patient’s medical history, prescription information and test results are at their care provider’s fingertips, saving the patient the burden of providing the information repeatedly to different doctors. In addition, telemedicine, remote monitoring and mobile technology give health care professionals the ability to treat patients at home, saving travel and wait times.
7. Helps care for military personnel. When military medics have immediate access to medical records, they can forward critical information on wounded warriors to field hospitals. That information follows the soldiers as they journey from the front line back to rehabilitation in the states.
8. Enhances ability to respond to public health emergencies and disasters. Data can be aggregated and used to improve public health, helping to understand outbreaks in communities and allowing appropriate responses. In disaster situations such as a hurricane, health IT can give practitioners access to a patient’s medical history, regardless of where their medical information lives. When Joplin, Missouri, was hit with a catastrophic tornado earlier this year, the paper records for a local hospital were scattered throughout the region, but the electronic medical records were intact, allowing treatment to continue at alternate facilities.
9. Enables discovery in new medical breakthroughs and provides a platform for innovation. As patient information becomes digitized, researchers can now analyze large sets of anonymous data, facilitating the rapid introduction of new therapies and better analysis on the effectiveness of medications and treatments. In addition, through the increased use of new, innovative mobile technologies and social networking tools, health IT offers the health care industry new ways to understand and administer care to patients.
Health IT is transforming the way health-related information is gathered, stored, shared and used and holds the promise of revolutionizing our health care system, making it more efficient, more effective and more focused on meeting the needs of patients.
Kristine Martin Anderson is a senior vice president in Booz Allen Hamiton's healthcare market.