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How Technology is Advancing Healthcare

November 18, 2016

University Services HHSA

As it is in many fields, technology is making a huge impact on healthcare—but in what ways, and how does it help patients? The benefits may be undeniable, but there are major implications that the industry is grappling with as more and more technology is incorporated into the healthcare process at administrative and clinical levels.

On the clinical side, technology is enabling more patient engagement. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is developing an app for migraine sufferers, says Ryan Johnson, an operations administrator at Mayo and a faculty member in the Master of Arts in Healthcare Administration program at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Users answer four questions in the app every morning, allowing the healthcare team to analyze which medications work and identify potential migraine triggers. “Previously, that might have involved multiple phone calls or visits, or the healthcare team would look at the information in three months,” Johnson notes. Information is collected and acted upon much more quickly, to patients’ benefit.

Wearable technology is another area of development. Researchers are developing biomarker sensors that can capture readings for specific disease groups. Healthcare professionals can monitor and track patients’ vital signs with serious conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking to monitor medication use and compliance is another area of inquiry and investigation. Tools similar to Fitbit can track exercise and physical activity levels. Such information-collecting technology brings up ethics and privacy issues, which must be considered as it becomes more common. “A lot of patients would be sensitive to all their habits being monitored and recorded,” Johnson says.


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The Impact of Electronic Health Records

Another significant area where technology is changing the face of healthcare is the transition from paper-based records to electronic health records (EHRs). The federal government has set aside billions of dollars for a program that offers financial incentives to healthcare providers that adopt EHR systems, aiming to improve care by sharing and analyzing healthcare data. This will enhance the ability of healthcare professionals and researchers to analyze health trends, disease patterns, and effective treatments on a much larger scale—and it will also help cut costs by preventing redundant tests and treatments. The effort has been largely successful: in 2015, more than 90 percent of hospitals of all types had implemented certified EHR technology.1

However, implementing and using EHRs has exposed many organizational issues and concerns. “Organizations were at such different levels of technological maturity,” says Johnson, who points out that Mayo Clinic had its electronic environment for 20 years before the federal initiative. A rural hospital or small doctor’s office might rely far less on technology and electronic recordkeeping.

Defining standards and figuring out how to ensure all systems can communicate with each other is another major topic. “That is a big thing for the future if we’re going to make efficient use of all the data,” Johnson says. “How do you work with the million different data points that must be standard in the future? There will be an intense, dedicated focus on that in the coming years.”

Adapting to New Financial Realities

All this technology and change requires a significant financial investment. Information security “is the fastest growing expenditure and the top priority for nearly every healthcare organization over the last couple of years,” says Johnson. “Healthcare has such sensitive information. It has amplified the need for investing heavily.”

Ongoing maintenance and upgrades are another areas of investment—in the billions for a large organization, according to Johnson. “EHRs need to show improved efficiencies that are going to drive costs down—eventually, that will show an ROI,” he says. At the same time, reimbursement is declining, and an aging population is entering government programs like Medicare, so it’s more difficult to pass costs onto patients, as in the past. “It’s starting to pinch organizations from a margin perspective,” says Johnson.

To respond to this new financial reality, organizations have to re-prioritize. “You’ll see less investment in the development of brick-and-mortar facilities and more of a push toward telemedicine and programs that keep patients out of the hospital,” he says.

As healthcare focuses on disease prevention and using technology-enhanced data to prevent and treat illness, the implications of the transformation are potentially life-changing. “We are moving past a traditional workstation into mobile technology,” Johnson says. “The next frontier is the ability to stay engaged with patients with all types of diseases.”

Discover how technology’s growing role in healthcare creates new and exciting career opportunities. Request a free brochure or call 877-308-9954 to speak with an enrollment counselor today about the online Master of Arts in Healthcare Administration degree from Saint Mary’s.

Source

  1. Percent of Hospitals, By Type, that Possess Certified Health IT, accessed 9/16/16, available at dashboard.healthit.gov.