Information technology (IT) has found widespread applications in the field of health care whereby it facilitates collection, storage, retrieval, and transfer of health information electronically. As a result, IT enables health care providers to improve the quality, efficiency, and safety of their services. Currently, IT applications in hospitals range from administrative and financial to clinical, infrastructural, and patient-centered uses. Most healthcare institutions have recorded efficiencies and enhanced patient outcomes after incorporating some aspects of IT into their services. For instance, studies indicate that IT enhances the storage and retrieval of patient information through the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Originally, EHRs were used as electronic file cabinets for different types of patient data including text, voice, images, and notes. Nowadays, it is possible for healthcare providers to access patient data in real-time through advanced IT applications such as automated order entry and patient-tracking systems (MedPAC 159).
Another important application of IT that has changed the way healthcare providers deliver services involves computerized provider order entry (CPOE). This type of health information technology enables physicians to make orders for medications in real-time. Moreover, more advanced CPOEs are used in a number of hospital services including lab orders, referrals, patient transfers, patient discharges, radiology studies, and diagnostic procedures. Most importantly, the impact of IT has been felt in the area of information sharing across different healthcare institutions in different locations. Here, an IT application such as the clinical decision support system (CDSS) enables physicians and other hospital staff to share diagnostic and treatment information in real-time (MedPAC 160). This information can be anything from simple alerts about prescription drug interactions to warnings, clinical pathways, and other important clinical protocols. Furthermore, some aspects of IT such as the picture archiving and communication system (PACS) enables healthcare providers to capture diagnostic and radiological images using x-ray devices, MRI, or computed tomography scans. These images can be stored or transferred to different points of care or to medical records and other clinical data repositories. Generally, IT applications in the health care sector are inexhaustible. Some of the most important IT applications include bar coding, radio frequency identification (RFID), automated dispensing machines (ADMs), electronic materials management (EMM), and the interoperability system (MedPAC 161).
Future Health Information Technologies
From the foregoing discussions, it is evident that IT applications have penetrated the healthcare sector and in the process improved the quality, safety, and efficiency of care services. However, in the next five years, experts posit that the application of health information technologies will shift from providing care management services to more strategic health management options (Lewis para. 1). This implies that technology modernization will no longer be targeting internal data storage systems, but it will be more outward, collaborative and patient-centered. Here, future technologies are expected to integrate electronic health records (EHRs), customer service management systems, health insurance exchanges, analytic technologies, and patient health records (PHRs) into patient-centric IT models. More specifically, IT companies should start working toward providing cloud computing systems, user accessible and configurable technologies, service-oriented architecture, and Web service integration systems (Lewis para. 2-5).
In fact, the current trends in the U.S. healthcare sector including the new health reform legislation, competition for customers, and the need to cut costs will continue to influence the way different healthcare providers utilize technology to deliver services. Generally, most healthcare providers including health insurance companies are expected to shift from the current administrative and financial IT applications to more modern forms of IT providing care and business solutions (Lewis para. 6). This will entail alignment and integration of health management solutions with customer relationship management (CRM) options. Furthermore, future IT applications in hospitals will target health and wellness services, particularly in terms of providing analytic models to facilitate faster and accurate decision-making, market analyses, and clinical performance reporting. Generally, future technologies in healthcare will target cost management, care management, clinical analytics, CRM, and other health management tools (Lewis para. 10).
Technology and Healthcare Careers
As noted earlier, IT has found widespread applications in the healthcare sector and hence the future of this sector will be shaped by the current and future health information technologies. This implies that IT will affect careers in this sector in different ways in that some positions will be removed as others are created. Moreover, many healthcare professionals will experience shifts from one subspecialty to another as the new technologies introduce newer and better types of medical care and clinical interventions. Most importantly, healthcare delivery systems will no longer be centralized since the new technologies promise to spread significant healthcare resources from hospitals and other tertiary care facilities to community- and home-based care institutions (Anvari 84). Generally, advances in technology will affect human resources in healthcare in varied ways. For instance, with the incorporation of more comprehensive health information systems in both in-patient and out-patient services, there will be the need to train healthcare professionals on various applications of IT in hospitals and outside the hospitals.
Moreover, advances in technology will see the removal of low-tech positions including clerical jobs in healthcare or else the people working in these positions will be forced to further their education in order to fit into the new job environment. Furthermore, there will be the increased need for informatics specialists who should either have medical backgrounds or non-medical backgrounds. Most probably, IT professionals with non-medical backgrounds will be forced to seek specialized training in order to fit into the complex healthcare sector. Additionally, most IT specialists will find new job openings in managing electronic databases, maintaining networks, developing clinical decision support systems, and supervising access to databases for security and quality assurance purposes (Anvari 85-88). Overall, advances in technology within the healthcare industry will see more healthcare professionals seeking advanced education and training in order to continue offering quality, efficient, and cost-effective services to their clients.