How has it changed healthcare?

Technology is all around us. All of us use it in our lives daily, so it isn’t something that we think about the impact it has in various areas of life with any great detail. Due to all of the advances that have been made, it is easy to see how it would affect healthcare. How is health technology improving the delivery of care? Is it safe? Are any changes necessary?


0528 Health Technology TNHealth technology is a fast growing and far-reaching arena. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is taking knowledge and skills to create things, like devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems, that help to fix a health problem and increase quality of life. It accomplishes this through providing earlier diagnosis, less invasive treatment options, decrease hospital stays and decrease rehab times. Often a benefit of improving theses is a reduction in overall cost. Besides devices and procedures, areas that fall under health technology are information technology and biotech. An example of a new health technology is the use of telemedicine that allows doctors in one region of the country to be able to see/interact with patients in another. Another health technology advancement that is making ground is the use of virtual reality in the training of surgeons on new procedures. This allows for practice of different scenarios without any risks to actual patients. An exciting new area is the use of 3D printers to help create artificial body parts. Currently, prototypes of specialized splints, prostheses, parts for devices and inert implants are being focused on. However, the ultimate goal of this technology is the ability to create customized replaceable body parts. Obviously, the impact these have on healthcare is going to be significant. While theses and many other innovations will change how healthcare is delivered, how does health technology affect you every day?

When you go to your doctor or the hospital, all of your information is most likely put into an electronic health record (EHR). This information is than readily available for any health professional that is involved in your care. Currently, more and more doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, etc. are trying to have systems that allow information to be more readily shared by making it easier for your information to be entered into one facility show up at another. This digitization of health records and health information exchange (HIE) has improved the care patients receive because all healthcare providers are able to be aware of changes that others make, which increases patient safety. Most providers have access to patient information via secure portals on their computers, tablets and smartphones. This makes it easier for them to have the information they need when and where they need it. While this may seem like an obvious way for things to operate, it takes a significant amount of time to get all doctors, hospital, pharmacies, etc. not only on board, but using systems that interface with each other, that is why it is still a work in progress. By developing a more national network, it would improve overall public health because it would allow for information to be shared more readily and patterns in conditions/diseases would be able to be studied on a broader scale. Also, it would improve workflow of healthcare professionals by making it less time consuming and decrease the risk of errors.

Most of us take health technology a step further by monitoring our health directly via our smartphones or wearable fitness devices. With all sorts of apps that allow us to monitor on exercise level, eating habits and sleep patterns, most of us are better informed about our health than we ever used to be before. Also, if we think something might be wrong, then where do we go to find an answer? Most likely, the internet. With more information available than we could ever read, it isn’t challenging to find an answer. Due to this, a significant amount of people use it to self-diagnosis. The only issue with this is that sometimes the information is not from reliable sources or your symptoms could fit a wide variety of conditions and unless you are examined by a health professional, then you could inaccurately diagnose yourself. All of this interest in consumerization of health technology has caused a huge increase in the health technology industry.

While health technology has unquestionably improved healthcare, there are some areas of concern. Some of these lie directly with the use of the technology itself. Some are afraid that clinicians will focus more on the information that health technology is providing rather than focusing on patient. Another apprehension is that if we become overdependent on using health technology is every step of treatment, then it can increase cost to the individual/family. Others are more concerned about privacy and who actually has access to a patient’s electronic health record. As more and more sensitive patient information is digitized, people are worried about how their information is being protected. Part of the worry about privacy is related to the vulnerability of big data and the cloud. Big data is all the data that is collected from a variety of sources, processed and use for analytical information. The trepidation is how is the information being used, how much personal data is still attached to the information and who is viewing it all. The cloud is the hardware and software that allows for massive amounts of information to be stored with little limitations and then retrieved (usually via the internet) at low cost without needing to have additional hardware or servers. By having strong backups and recovery services, it protects against loss of information and improves access to big data (anyone with access to the cloud can access the information). The main concerns with both of theses is their vulnerability to hacks, malware and viruses. A secondary issue is the chance that a healthcare provider’s mobile device that has access to patient information gets lost or stolen and someone who wasn’t supposed to have access now does. A third concern is that by having a centralized data point and if a connectivity or bandwidth problem occurs, then there is no access to the information.

While there is no question that there are issues that need to be addressed as we continue to move forward in the improvement and development of health technology, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. When you consider the fact that doctors are able to communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals easier, better treatments are being implemented that decrease the amount of suffering and the improvements in care that is being provided via better work efficiency, it makes all of these changes worthwhile. Health technology has saved countless of lives and enhanced the quality of life for many more. It will continue to do so, but just needs some guidance on how best to do that to address concerns.