Recent advancements in technology have led to significant improvements in virtually all aspects of health care including its quality, extent of impact on people’s lives, safety levels, as well as the opinion of the general public regarding a variety of health issues. Although the implementation of information systems and technologies into health care is a relatively new topic, it is thought to be one of the most controversial issues. Today, all parties concerned advocate wider implementation of innovative IT practices and policies. Among those who assert that the future of health care is inseparable from incorporation of sophisticated information systems and technologies are investors. The latter are particularly interested given the fact that the ROI (return on investment) rates can be very high. There are several problems to overcome though. IT systems designated for implementation into health care can be quite complex and expensive to operate, while an increasing use of state-of-the-art mobile devices, emerging viruses, and increased collaboration among people may prevent some health care providers from launching innovative IT products. That said, the majority agree that the potential of IT systems is virtually limitless, so whoever successfully implements them, is likely to outdo his competitors in the market.
The Impact of Technologies on Health Care
Information technology advancement has enabled population to have better access to useful data, most of which may be used in a greater variety of ways than before. Specifically, modern doctors are in a privileged position since they enjoy a unique opportunity to treat patients more effectively due to innovative tools they use that are based on the latest technological inventions and trends. As a result, nowadays, medical scholars and physicians can gather, store, and process data more efficiently. Under these circumstances, if one looks at all achievements of medical science and technology, he/she will expect the treatment of a high quality, safety of his personal data, and overall efficiency of the health care.
Although IT is still a relatively new trend in health care, it is paving its way not only into expensive and complex therapies, but also into what can be regarded as more common medical procedures. As the world gradually becomes more and more digital, health care needs to adapt, and, in fact, it has already adapted to the requirements of the digital age. Although it is not easy to successfully implement IT into health care, with many problems constantly threatening its integrity, it should be noted that both doctors and patients welcome the opportunities that IT brings into medical science. Among these one may find online prescription systems and help services, image processing, etc.
One of the things that has benefited the majority of patients in the United States is the Electronic Medical Records System (EMRS). Large-scale studies have supported the validity and reliability of its use. To illustrate, an extensive research was conducted in the Colorado and Northwest regions of the Kaiser Permanente consortium, where a million people were engaged in a test of the new electronic system. After two years, both regions showed a decrease in age adjusted rates of office visits, while primary care visits dropped by eleven percent. In their turn, specialty care visits decreased by more than five percent. The system’s estimated net benefit after five years of use was more than $85,000 per provider. That sum was so high because the implementation of the Electronic Medical Records System allowed to utilize radiology studies in a more effective manner, as well as it improved the process of capturing the charges, and decreased errors in billing and drug expenditures. Another study has demonstrated that implementation of an electronic system of medical records is a way to improve the overall efficiency by six percent per year. Besides, the application of such approach is highly unlikely to result in unwanted admissions and tests. These findings were published by the US Veterans Health Administration (Clifford, Blaya, Hall-Clifford & Fraser, 2008).
It should be noted that developed countries benefit from IT innovations in health care exceeds that found in the third world countries. Evidently, this may be attributed to the fact that the industrialized states can afford implementation of the latest technologies with the aim to improve their health care systems. Indeed, the innovative approach comes at a price since the success-and-failure development part requires extensive funding along with the tests of the final products and its subsequent improvement based on the data received.
In this context, less developed countries can focus on implementing already existing technologies and systems, as opposed to covering the whole cycle of product’s life. This way information technology progress can have a positive impact on health care systems in developing countries too. Considering the current state of health care in some developing countries, IT advancement can bring a whole set of benefits to healthcare. For instance, the aforementioned EMRS could revolutionize health care in countries with weaker economies (Littlejohns, Wyatt & Garvican, 2003).
The Top Three Threats to the Quality of Health Care Data
Unfortunately, with new technologies come new threats. Among these, there are three that need to be addressed immediately: threats coming from mobile devices, viruses, and increased collaboration between people.
Nowadays, a mobile phone has become “the new social”. The number of mobile devices that people use is increasing fast. Health care workers similarly to the rest of general public take advantage of cell phones, iPhones, iPads, etc. They use these gadgets on a daily basis , however only a fraction of these devices are used solely for professional purposes. The same applies to network access. Although electronic devices and the Internet can be used for good, they also present a major risk. To illustrate, according to the research conducted by the Ponemon Institute, 81% of health care organizations store sensitive information on mobile devices (Rafalin, 2011). Half of respondents in another survey stressed that companies they work for did not take necessary measures to secure sensible data (Rafalin, 2011). With so many devices being stolen or lost, mobile devices have become the major threat. One of the recent cases was exposure of more than four million patients’ records after a PC was stolen from Sutter Health in October, 2011. Possible solutions to the problem involve network access control solutions that will identify different users and connected devices, scan them and give permissions accordingly (Merrill, 2011). Some solutions can erase data remotely after a device has been reported stolen or lost. Therefore, it is highly recommended that laptops and other devices inside hospitals should be secured by passwords. Staff should be trained by a cyber security specialist.
However, mobile devices are not the only kind of threat that can be regarded an external one. Although it can do harm through hospital employees’ actions, viruses are a more subtle threat which exposes the data to corroboration. Malicious software can corrupt important data. It can leak important files and lead to the global exposure. In addition, it can make crucial parts of IT systems malfunction and even physically harm people. Possible solutions: Anti-virus and anti-spyware software should be installed . Proper security configurations on computers should help too. Ideally, a team of IT specialists who know how to deal with different kinds of malicious software and configure electronic devices should be available upon request.
That said, with the increased collaboration between people, even IT professionals can be helpless. Old grudges may lead to sabotage, yet they are not as common as human errors. People may share a wrong document or unintentionally leak some valuable information under a post on Facebook. Or one may lose a device with important medical data. If this is an iPhone or its prototype, the loss seems to be quite harmful in cases when an iPhone owner is a psychiatrist and has his patients’ videos recorded on the lost tablet. Possible solutions include avoidance of sharing sensitive data and preventing it from being leaked. Medical staff should be aware of what they store and where they store it. Organizations should ensure they know how to react if anything gets lost, stolen or shared (in this situation, Plan B seems insufficient) . Organizations’ managers should also instruct their employees regularly on security issues.
The Major Developments in the Evolution of Health Care Information Systems over the Next 20 Years
Technology is not concentrated at the point of care anymore. Instead, it has moved to the hands of patients. While its uses are manifold, one of its primary benefits is it helps to replace the patient-physician dialogue, where not enough truth (and insufficient relevant data) is revealed, with more reliable data stream. Moreover, people are encouraged to maintain their health and participate in their own treatment, as many electronic devices provide useful information about particular health problems. Therefore, technology enables positive environmental and social changes. For example, Kaiser Permanente has reported five million visits delivered by means of Skype, telephone, and email. This is how a shift from a “point-of-service model” to the “patient-provider dialogue” happened (Mah & Guenther, 2011).
Billions are being spent on electronic health care systems. The latter are becoming easier in use, process data faster, and produce better results. Security is another aspect that needs to be improved. . Hackers, terrorists, and criminals will predictably continue looking for security holes in electronic systems, so medical providers must get better equipped for protecting sensible data. The healthcare will definitely benefit from more technologically advanced devices being manufactured and installed, which will help monitor and calculate all kinds of relevant data. To add, better electronic record systems will ensure the process of filling forms is more user-friendly.
That said, one thing is highly unlikely to change. According to Jim Traficant (2012), the president of Harris Healthcare Solutions,
[…] No matter how amazing it is, the technology cannot replace the doctor. So as we continue to build a better healthcare system for the 21st century (and, yes, lower costs), our attitudes toward treatment must evolve as well.
This seems to be true.
The Basic Components of a Strategic Information System Plan
When the process of strategic information system planning starts, the needs are identified first. This is done with the aim to specify the goals. When a system is being developed, the process takes place with the purpose of achieving a specific objective. This part is similar to strategic planning in management. It may as well be the most important step, as poorly performed initial analysis will ruin the project. Next, priorities need to be formalized, as well as objectives, and authorization. The so-called development plan identifies priorities for each project, allocates resources, states general procedures and possible constraints, and identifies projects for the future. If a person who reads the plan can understand the nature of each application and its position in the development queue, the plan is specific enough. Otherwise, it should be made more detailed. It should be noted that the plan should be flexible enough to account for a possible change of priorities if it ever occurs during the development cycle. Ideally, the plan’s structure ought to be continuously updated and approved. After the draft of our plan has been completed, it should be revised once again so that it gets finalized.
Modern society lives the age of technology. Similarly to numerous other areas, health care benefits from the technological breakthroughs that have been witnessed lately. Given this, it stands to reason that the expansion of information systems and technologies into medical science is going to continue. Today, the society benefits from powerful image processing tools and electronic record systems. In the immediate future, people will possibly find themselves consulting with doctors via Google Hangouts on the data uploaded from various electronic devices. Thus, it is highly desirable that the systems used be high-quality, safe, fast, and reliable. In order to achieve this, medical staff and patients have to overcome some difficulties, like viruses and security holes in software. In addition, it has to be made explicit how to deal with human errors and protect information from being leaked in the world where more people have a mobile phone rather than a toothbrush (Hall, 2011). IT systems can be complex and expensive, yet their potential is hard to overestimate. They may not replace real doctors any time soon, but they can become a tool that will make many people healthier. Therefore, innovations in the sphere of information technology for health care are welcome.