The tipping point for health care technology

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The health care industry has been more cautious in adapting new technology trends than other sectors, and rightly so. Personal health information must be confidential and secure, and is closely governed by regulation – PIPEDA in Canada. Any changes to how this information is stored, secured or shared would likely require regulatory revision. Further, the accuracy and authenticity of information used by health care professionals in treating a patient is literally a matter of life and death. When so much is at stake, it is clear why the medical community is slow to change and still relies heavily on handwritten notes and documents.

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Nonetheless, healthcare has reached a tipping point in terms of adapting new technology. The mobile revolution continues, and patient involvement in their own treatment is an unstoppable force. There is tremendous pressure on health care facilities to improve not only patient health and wellbeing, but also the caregiver experience. The opportunity to improve patient outcomes while reducing wait times and lowering costs to the system – in other words, to enhance the productivity of health care delivery –is so great that adaptation of the enabling technology is inevitable.

Here are five trends that will continue to impact the health care industry in 2014 and beyond.

1.       BYOD is becoming mainstream – Employees today want to be connected to everything, and increasingly they want that connectivity on their personal mobile devices. Faced with an influx of personal smartphones and tablets brought to work by their medical staff, hospitals are beginning to embrace the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend and are looking at the support requirements and protocols needed to manage confidentiality and privacy requirements.

Does your hospital have a BYOD policy that includes an enabling IT infrastructure, and governance and compliance issues? The good news is that there are now tools available to securely support the multitude of mobile devices your staff are already bringing to work.

The return on investment for BYOD in a hospital setting is still not easy to compute, but the payoff in terms of employee satisfaction and the potential for productivity gains in delivering patient care can no longer be ignored. BYOD is here to stay, and 2014 may be the year to fully embrace it.

2.       Big Data plays a vital role in patient care – With advanced technologies, we are now able to analyze and retrieve valuable information from collections of large and complex data sets (known as “Big Data”) that until recently were too difficult to process with traditional data processing applications. In the healthcare world, this is a huge benefit for individual patient care, research into diseases, and overall productivity in the delivery of services.

As Electronic Health Records evolve and are capable of working with outside apps, critical information is being captured and recorded by both caregivers and patients themselves. Data from all sources needs to be integrated to provide a holistic view of patient diagnosis and treatment. Patients can also access their information from almost any device at any location.

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With this new capability to manage and analyze Big Data, and the reality that information is increasingly being stored on and retrieved from mobile devices, the era of Big Data in patient care has arrived. Access to comprehensive health data enables more accurate prognosis and treatment decisions. Healthcare providers are realizing the benefit of Big Data to deliver better care at lower costs as well as more customized treatment plans. EHR systems have become more affordable and information can be exchanged more easily than ever before.

3. Telemedicine will deliver cost-effective care for the future – Technology is continuing to push the envelope of treatment options available to all patients. With video conferencing through laptops, smartphones and tablets, patients can easily connect with their medical staff. Self-monitoring devices make it easier for patients to monitor and report their vital signs without a trip to the doctor or hospital. Post hospitalization, patients can check in and upload their data, and medical staff can videoconference with the patient or with other members of their team.

Such ‘virtual’ care will continue to increase through 2014 and beyond.

4.       Data security solutions are at hand  – Personal health information must always be encrypted, and ensuring patient confidentiality and compliance with regulatory requirements has become more challenging as the IT environment becomes increasingly complex. At the same time, the platforms that provide data security continue to evolve to meet these challenges.

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A great backup tool is the ability to track and erase information from devices that have been stolen or compromised. This security solution is now readily available, as well as products that provide secure leads for email, texting, file sharing and videoconferencing.

5.      Mobile apps are on the rise  – Medical staff access mobile apps to quickly gather many types of information. Patients use mobile apps to count their calorie intake or measure heart rate, to assist with more complex regimens like managing chronic disease, or to be reminded to take their medication.

EHRs are also evolving to work better with outside apps for data input and monitoring. Health systems are developing and implementing their own apps to help improve the patient experience. Finally, apps are being developed to span many different devices, and will play a vital role in healthcare now and in the future.

Technology continues to develop at a dramatic pace. Tablets, servers, cloud computing, smart machines and smart printers will all encourage a major work shift – and less use of paper – in hospitals and medical facilities throughout the world. The potential for new technologies to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs is swiftly becoming a reality.