In the health sector, technology has redefined the way care services are delivered, improved patient-caregiver interaction, enhanced research, promoted easy learning, and increased patient safety. In other words, the different aspects of technology work in concert for better patient and health outcomes. The proliferation of the Internet gives patients access to information about their health, which was hitherto unavailable. In addition, the digitization of health records increases interoperability and eliminates the many drawbacks associated with manual record keeping. The concept of patient-based care has evolved to become a standard practice with clients making important decisions concerning their health matters due to the availability of platforms where they can be educated comprehensively and allowed to decide the best care approach. However, like any other innovation, the pervasive nature of technology has some demerits when it comes to healthcare provision. Patient privacy and the protection of their data from access by unauthorized third parties is a major concern associated with technology in healthcare. This paper discusses the impacts of technology on healthcare by highlighting both its advantages and disadvantages in the continuum of care.
Impact of Technology on Healthcare
Electronic Health Records (EHR)
Technology has facilitated the digitization of health records, and this aspect has revolutionized the way patients interact with the healthcare system. The concept of EHR has gained popularity due to the numerous advantages associated with it. In this system, patient records are captured and stored electronically through platforms that could be shared among care providers (Campanella et al. 60). This step removed the challenges posed by paper-based record keeping, which is tedious, time-consuming, and prone to error, thus putting the safety of patients at risk.
In the new EHR system, patients’ data stored in a centralized location are accessible remotely, which streamlines service delivery. In this case, if a patient visits a certain care facility or a doctor’s office, the involved care provider will be in a position to retrieve the client’s medical history remotely. This aspect has numerous benefits associated with the quality of care given to patients. First, the availability of the clients’ medical records remotely allows doctors and other care practitioners to make the right care decisions because they have all the relevant information. For instance, if a patient is allergic to certain drugs, such medications will not be prescribed, which improves are outcomes tremendously.
Similarly, EHR saves time in many ways, which is an aspect of improved care to patients. Under the traditional paper-based system, patients are required to plan and make trips to healthcare facilities for check-ups or to book an appointment with their doctors. After reaching the care centers, people have to spend time filling in their details. However, under EHR, patients fill all their necessary details and book appointments remotely (Hoover 21). This aspect eliminates the element of time wastage, which streamlines the way doctors interact with their patients. Once in the doctor’s office, the patient does not need to recall information concerning his or her medical history because that data is already available in the system. The doctor then makes evidence-based decisions grounded on the information presented through the EHR.
An electronic order can be sent to the client’s pharmacy of choice so that by the time a patient arrives at the drugstore, his or her order is ready for collection. This seamless interaction between doctors and patients makes the system more efficient and effective. As such, doctors can now attend to many patients in a day while people have enough time to accomplish other productive activities instead of queuing at the doctor’s office the entire day.
One of the major areas that the EHR system has changed, and increased efficiency is the issue of patient safety. The main objective of any healthcare system is to ensure that patients get timely and quality care services for improved health outcomes. However, some patients have had poor outcomes due to errors made in the provision of receiving care in different healthcare settings. Under the paper-based system, medication errors are a common occurrence for various reasons. For instance, doctors’ handwriting could be poor and illegible, and thus nurses and pharmacists could administer the wrong medication due to this problem leading to adverse patient outcomes. Similarly, the patient’s records could be missing or incomplete, forcing physicians to make decisions not based on any useful data. This aspect could lead to serious complications and even death in worst-case scenarios. However, with EHR, patient safety is improved significantly because physicians have access to patient’s data for appropriate clinical decision-making. Similarly, nurses and pharmacists do not have to guess what has been written because everything is available electronically. Ultimately, patients enjoy improved care outcomes, and healthcare professionals are saved from expensive litigations due to errors.
The EHR system has also promoted the patient-based care, which has been touted as one of the best practices that have been applied in the healthcare sector. In this approach to care, patients’ autonomy is respected, and they are allowed to contribute significantly to their care decision-making process. However, for patients to contribute significantly and meaningfully to this process, they have to be sufficiently informed. The problem with paper-based record-keeping is that patients do not have access to useful information concerning their health conditions. Therefore, even if they are allowed to make decisions, they do so from a uniformed point of view, which could potentially lead to adverse outcomes.
However, with the EHR system, physicians and other care providers can share information with patients concerning the different aspects of the underlying conditions. Additionally, some EHR platforms have evidence-based data on various diseases, and thus users can access and study. As such, patients are given the right information to make the right decisions. Under this system, clients and doctors become partners to ensure a healthy living. In other words, patients are becoming more responsible for their health due to improved learning opportunities presented by the EHR system and the Internet at large. Ultimately, it is expected that individuals will start leading a healthy lifestyle for a better quality of life.
Additionally, data captured in the EHR system has become an important tool in the promotion of preventive care. As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure, and the underlying principles of this phrase are being implemented with the new system. The majority of diseases progress quickly due to the failure to detect their presence or probability of occurrence early and implement the appropriate intervention measures. However, with the new system, healthcare professionals could use the available patient data to encourage preventive practices. For instance, if a patient’s records indicate that he or she has missed some important vaccinations, the involved care provider could remind the client to consider being vaccinated.
Similarly, some conditions, such as cancer, require people to be screened from time to time to detect them in their early stages for improved chances of successful treatment and recovery through precision medicine (Khoury et al. 399). Therefore, care providers could educate patients on the need for such tests if the records show that screening has not taken place. Physicians could also advise their clients appropriately on the lifestyles to observe based on the available data. For instance, in case records show that a patient has a family history of diabetes, the doctor could provide useful information on how to lead a healthy lifestyle to avoid getting the disease.
In a bid to enhance the uptake of EHR systems among healthcare providers, the US government has made significant steps. In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) “earmarked almost $30 billion in funds to incentivize Electronic Health Record (EHR) adoption by US healthcare providers, largely through the “Meaningful Use” (MU) program” (Gordon and Catalini 224). Additionally, the government has also come up with policies to ensure that care providers embrace technology in their day-to-day operations. These government initiatives have incentivized most hospitals and practitioners to incorporate EHR in their service provision.
In 2008, only 9 percent of non-federal acute care hospitals had adopted EHR, but that number increased tremendously to 96 percent by 2015 (Gordon and Catalini 224). Therefore, the government has been playing a central role in the implementation of EHR systems in the healthcare sector through policy and availing resources on the same. Private companies have also participated significantly in the entire process by coming up with various platforms to suit different customer needs and offer a wide variety of pricing choices. In the end, the EHR is almost becoming the default mode of operation, and even those who are yet to adopt it are in the process.
Risks Associated with HER
The major drawback associated with EHR is the possibility of patient data breach and access by unauthorized third parties. This assertion raises the issue of data privacy, which is a major problem in the modern world. With EHR, data for millions of patients is centralized, and thus if the system is hacked, third parties could steal this information and use it for malicious or criminal activities (Ronquillo et al. 16). People have the right to privacy, and thus they have to make the decision whether to publicize their personal information concerning their health. Therefore, when hackers access such sensitive information, they could use it to extort money or blackmail the affected individuals. On top of this behavior being criminal in nature, it encourages the culture of victimization and stigmatization, which ultimately leads to poor health outcomes. However, system providers are working tirelessly to ensure that patients’ data is protected to avoid such occurrences.
Another problem with EHR is that it depends largely on the interoperability of the different platforms in the market. As such, if the platforms are not compatible, the effectiveness of the system is affected because providers cannot access patient information, which is needed for clinical decision-making. Additionally, EHR systems are prone to failure and malfunctioning, which could potentially affect service delivery to patients. In many cases, these systems are reliant on Internet access, and in case of outages or poor network, services are affected extensively leading to inconveniences.
Finally, these systems are prone to human errors when entering patient data. Consequently, if the wrong data is captured at any point of entry, the integrity of the system is compromised, and patients receive poor services with adverse health outcomes (Tsou et al. 13). Similarly, the data captured in these systems should be updated from time to time, failure to which patients cannot enjoy the maximum benefits associated with this technology. In addition, EHR systems are expensive to install and maintain, which could be a limiting factor to many practitioners and care facilities.
Technology has also introduced a novel concept known as telemedicine, which is the deployment of telecommunication technology to remotely provide clinical services to patients. It has been branded as “healing from a distance,” and it has reshaped the way patients receive care services (Farrar 269). In this system, physicians use secure video and audio connections to meet their patients virtually, thus mirroring the normal visit to the doctor’s office. This approach to care has numerous benefits to providers, payers, and patients. To care providers, telemedicine offers a wide range of application options for improved patient outcomes. For instance, using features, such as artificial intelligence diagnosis and streaming, providers deliver care remotely through comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plans. Nurses can monitor patients in real-time and make informed decisions based on the available data to come up with the appropriate treatment plans. Through such platforms, physicians can see many patients within a short period, hence increased revenue. Telemedicine is also cost-saving because it does not need expensive infrastructure to be implemented. Ultimately, providers enjoy increased revenues at minimal expenses, thus more profits.
Patients have also benefited immensely from telemedicine. For instance, they do not have to make long and inconveniencing trips to the doctor’s office to be attended to as long as they can access the Internet and a computer or other compatible devices. The elderly, who have problems with moving from one place to another, are getting the right assistance through telemedicine. This approach to care is also convenient and cheaper than the conventional system due to reduced transport costs, and the issue of missing work does not arise, and thus an individual could remain productive and healthy. Additionally, people in remote and marginalized areas can now enjoy quality care services from their locations because they do not need to move.
However, telemedicine has several drawbacks. First, technology is evolving fast, and the associated policymaking process for regulation has not been in a position to keep pace. Issues to do with privacy protection, reimbursement policies, and other related laws have not been addressed comprehensively. This aspect exposes the technology to the possibility of abuse and health disparities in the care system. Additionally, with reduced face-to-face meetings, physicians may not get a clear picture of the state of their patients, which could potentially lead to adverse health outcomes. Nevertheless, the problems associated with telemedicine could be resolved and ensure its full incorporation into the healthcare system.
Better Public Health
Technology is advancing public health practices to ensure healthy populations with people enjoying quality lives. For instance, the patient data captured through EHR systems could be used to study and understand trends of diseases and make the right policies (Heart et al. 23). Additionally, during natural disasters or disease outbreaks, the affected individuals could be attended to in a better way of using technology. There are various web applications that could be used to retrieve the evacuees’ data and offer the appropriate care during emergencies. Wearable technology has also pervaded the healthcare sector, and patients can be monitored remotely using devices that relay important information to providers for better clinical decision-making and service provision.
The proliferation of mobile devices and Internet connectivity means that people have access to health information, and thus they can make informed decisions concerning their lifestyles. The concept of genome sequencing has also emerged whereby a person’s genetic make-up is sequenced and analyzed for better decision-making concerning care services and other intervention measures. For instance, through genome sequencing, those with predisposing genes to some conditions, such as cancer, are identified, and suitable measures are taken to prevent the development of the disease. With time, technology could be used to knock-off these genes, thus improving people’s quality of life.
Education in this context is multifaceted as it applies to providers and patients. One of the major challenges facing the healthcare sector is the shortage of skilled labor to keep pace with the changing patient needs. The institutions of higher learning training care professionals are not enough to meet all the market needs. However, technology has introduced the concept of e-learning, where people can be trained through online platforms, thus overcoming the barrier of limited educational centers. In addition, continued learning is part of the best practices in the care profession. Therefore, the Internet offers a wide array of materials that providers could use to increase their knowledge. Study findings one emerging evidence-based practices are available online and thus, care providers have the opportunity to continue advancing their knowledge to meet the ever-changing patient needs. On their part, patients have access to important information concerning their health, as discussed earlier in this paper.
Technology has changed the way providers interact with and deliver care services to patients. The digitization of patient records through the EHR system has revolutionized care provision. Health outcomes have improved significantly because physicians and other providers have access to critical patient information to make informed clinical decisions. EHR also saves time as users are allowed to feed the relevant information in the system and book appointments, which allows them to spend the least amount of time waiting to be seen by their doctors. Patient safety has improved significantly because providers are unlikely to make errors in the process of delivering their services.
Patients have also become partners with providers in health promotion because they are involved in the decision-making process to choose what is best for them. However, EHR, like any other system, has some disadvantages. The issue of patient data security and privacy is a major area of concern because hackers can access such information and use it for malicious purposes. Telemedicine has also emerged from technology, and it is changing the care provision landscape by allowing providers to deliver care remotely. Similarly, public health practices have improved significantly. Therefore, technology has impacted the healthcare sector positively, and its merits outweigh the demerits.
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