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How IT Is Changing Healthcare for Better and for Worse

How IT Is Changing Healthcare for Better and for Worse

This is an exciting time of change in the field of healthcare technology. New systems and devices are making it much more convenient for doctors to find and share patient information. However, with this opportunity also comes risk. New technologies sometimes demand greater attention from the doctor, at the patient's expense. And the possibility of data input error is a source of concern.

By Jeff Kagan
01/27/11 5:00 AM PT

Healthcare technology has really made incredible advances over the last several years. However, while there is an app for almost everything, much still seems to be stuck in the Fred Flintstone era.

Doctors still carry around thick folders with years of patient history. Yesterday, this was the only way to capture all of a patient's information. However, over the last several years, we are seeing an information technology revolution change healthcare.

Doctors are spending more time with their computers during patient visits. On one hand, this is obviously very good, but now we have noticed there are new problems to be aware of.

Literally a Matter of Life and Death

I recently gave a speech at a medical and heathcare meeting about how this new information technology revolution is changing the medical and healthcare industry. I also had the chance to mingle with many in the industry. They definitely recognize the problem, but they have no answers yet. It's one thing if we are talking about a new music box, but it's an entirely different thing if we are talking about health, life and death.

It's my job to poke and prod everyone in the audience. It's my job to make them feel uncomfortable and get them to think more carefully about these new problems and issues. If I don't get eggs thrown at me (figuratively speaking, of course), I am not doing my job.

The medical community sees the obvious benefit in technology but is not yet aware of what can go wrong with all this IT.

Doctors have always had to sort through mountains of data to find the spec of useful information they need. Sharing this information with other doctors and hospitals was slow and often hard to decipher. And if there were a fire or earthquake, all this information could be lost.

Information technology makes that much easier and faster. IT is protected. It's easy to share. However, it has its own new problems to wrestle with. People in the information technology industry have battled this for years, and it's time to teach the healthcare industry what the problems and issues are and give them tools to bring them up to speed.

Pros and Cons

I am sure you sense these problems when you visit your doctor. Yesterday you would be sitting in the same room, having a brief conversation as they listened to your heart and your breathing and asked you to cough. Then they would write notes in your file, which got thicker every year.

Today, however, the doctor is sitting in front of the keyboard struggling with transforming the way they do business. This early time can be taxing, to say the least, for both the doctor and patient. Doctors are not technology experts, yet they must enter the right information in the right places on the right screens or bad things can happen to the patients.

There is so much exciting news breaking every day. So much is changing in the healthcare and pharma industries. We are seeing "e" in front of many traditional terms. There's an ePharma conference in New York City next week with many big-name companies as sponsors. There are many small companies and new Web sites like RememberItNow.com. It's owned by Pam Swingley, who set it up to help her take care of her father and all his confusing medications and is now making this tool available to others.

On one hand, there are new apps we can use on our smartphones to monitor our aging parents' vital signs, or to watch our kids at home while we are at work. On the other hand, how many times have you visited your doctor during the last year or two only to find they were trying to move everything from a paper world to a digital world?

How much of your visit is looking at the back of the doctor's head these days while they are entering information in the computer? Then when they finally turn around to actually interact with you, the visit was almost over.

Looking at You or Looking at a Screen?

This is an exciting time of change. With that comes a set of risks. This is a big and growing opportunity for the nation's wireless industry, both networks and handset makers.

Going forward, innovation and growth in wireless will come from other industries like healthcare. Transforming this industry is an enormous task, but it will be very positive in general for all the players. One area everyone needs to focus on is staying tuned in to the patient.

This change is full of good and bad, isn't it? This is not the way you want healthcare to be. This is not the way they want to provide healthcare, either. Yet this is what we are dealing with today during this transformation period, which just started a few years ago and will continue for years to come.

Are your doctors catching everything they need to with you and your condition, or are they increasingly focused on the screen instead of their patient? They want to be, but technology sucks their attention away.

This is a problem. Going digital is the right thing to do for many reasons. It can speed up the ability to share information. It can improve healthcare for everyone. However, it is not without risk. If the doctor enters the wrong code or number into your record, you pay the price.

When we type on the computer, the spell checker corrects our mistakes, and if you are like me, it corrects plenty. However, there is not spell checker for patient information, and if a doctor enters the wrong information, no one may know until it is too late.

Training may be the answer to help doctors better understand how technology will change their world, for better and for worse. Then again, how do we convince doctors this is important? They are too busy as it is.

While I think "e" technology moving into the medical and healthcare field is a definite plus, and an unstoppable trend, it also comes with risks that need to be managed properly. I don't think they are being managed well enough at this point, but keeping this issue front and center is the right thing to do for doctors and patients.


Jeff Kagan is an E-Commerce Times columnist and industry analyst following wireless, telecom and healthcare technology. He is also an author, speaker and consultant. Email him at jeff@jeffKAGAN.com.


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