Clinical, News

Medicine and Technology: The Advent of Software in Medicine

The rise of the electronic age has strongly impacted healthcare information by making it cheaper, more efficient, and more convenient for the customers.  This “digitizing” of healthcare drastically impacts two specific areas:  electronic medical records and mobile healthcare. Electronic medical records streamline most of the paperwork behind administration, cutting down on office costs and increasing medical productivity; Mobile healthcare expands the range that health practitioners can operate in and gives more tools to patients to monitor their own health.

Given its reputation as a rich and advanced nation, the United States of America surprisingly has a relatively small percentage of hospitals that manage their health records electronically, thus lagging behind most of the developed world. This electronic medical record implementation will have a number of impacts in the areas of patient identification, billing, scheduling, and reduction in medical errors.

In the past, all medical records were stored on paper in bulky folders and file cabinets stored in different floors of the hospitals. Clerks searched for patient records manually, using up to hours to track down medical histories and billing information. A conversion to electronic medical records makes for a more efficient medical office, less error, more financial savings as productivity increases, and better customer care.

Both patients and insurance companies are billed for services in the hospital. This used to be done via snail mail, with bills mailed to patients and claims mailed to insurance companies. The introduction of fax machines sped this process up somewhat, but nothing provided the functionality of electronic systems. Today’s electronic medical records software does virtually everything – provides electronic billing and insurance forms, accesses the internet in order to send electronic bills or reminders to patients as well as to submit claims to insurance companies, tracks the progress of claims, checks for billing errors, provides data analysis tools related to medical office billing and finance, and more. The results here consist of greater office efficiency, more billing accuracy, and a better overview of the entire billing cycle. The ultimate effect of all this is faster processing of claims, fewer rejected claims, and a more robust monetary flow for the practice.

Scheduling is a function tailor made for electronic systems. Most electronic medical records programs contain sophisticated calendar/scheduler functions that make the setting up of patient appointments very fast and easy. While smaller clinics may manage without such systems, large practices such as hospitals and clinics with thousands of patients require these scheduling functions to manage all their patients accurately. In the past these patients were managed with manual labor and large datebooks and calendars, which would understandably lead to scheduling mishaps. With today’s electronic medical records software, this scheduling is done automatically and quickly. Again, the final result is better office efficiency and more patients being seen when it is convenient for them.

The greater accessibility of medical reference information impacts healthcare quality directly – with more medical records readily available, medical errors are reduced. Issues such as tolerances to drugs and drug interactions, allergy information, and general medical references allow doctors to avoid common hidden mistakes. This is an obvious step forward in patient care and can even lead to lower mortality rates. As should be fairly clear, in healthcare, electronic medical records technology has the primary effect of freeing up time and increasing efficiency and accuracy. This in turn leads to better care as doctors are able to focus on patients themselves instead of bureaucratic issues and paperwork.

Mobile healthcare promises an even greater impact on the healthcare field. To understand why, think of the rise of the smartphone. Global sales of smartphones are expected to hit 1.5 billion units by 2016.  Years after that, everybody from teenagers to the elderly will be using smartphones as a part of their daily lives. In addition to being location aware, the smartphone of the future will be contextually aware, presenting information to you as it sees fit. This will revolutionize the relationship between patient and their healthcare providers. In addition to these new capabilities, an explosion in health-related apps promises to radically change the way healthcare is delivered and accessed. Doctors won’t disappear, but they can easily access more information about your health from more sources.

How will these changes impact healthcare?  Improved access to care, improved patient engagement, new business models to deal with an influx of data, and safer patients.  In the digital age, patients and doctors no longer need to be in the same room. Patients who live in rural areas can “visit” doctors via a digital interface from the comforts of his or her home. Many aspects of healthcare frustrate patients – long lines, complexity, and lack of transparency of cost and quality. Most of this is unnecessary. For example, a text could notify you that your physician is running late for a meeting. Apps can also eliminate complexity. Imagine a medication reminder app that knows how many pills you have taken and when you will take them next. This app would know when you are low on pills, prompting a refill or even placing a mail order. One simple user input and it automatically places the prescription for your chosen delivery method and charges your health savings account. New and vast volumes of sensory and digital data will begin to supplement constant patient visits, and the current hospital administration structure is ill equipped to deal with this data.  Instead of secretaries, imagine large call centers housing healthcare professionals managing and responding to inbound data.

Digital apps will make healthcare safer by giving patients portable tools to manage their own health. Could you imagine a world where all the information you needed for a safe and healthy recovery was handed to you on an app? You could tend to the most urgent tasks and the one or two items most important to remember, and the app would take care of all the daily tasks. Apps can remind you to take pills, monitor side effects and transfer the knowledge to your provider. In the future, everything that can be done digitally will be done digitally. Digital health apps will schedule appointments, tell you the doctor is running late, help monitor medications’ side effects, and help you follow your care plan accurately. These changes will engage patients with their health and healthcare in new ways. It will also radically reform healthcare delivery.

Sara Khalek

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