Technology has had a tremendous effect on the health care world. As time goes by, it is becoming increasingly complex. Every day it is changing how health care is provided and acquired. Before technology came into the picture, doctors and nurses relied mostly on what their education and senses told them. They took pulses with their finger and a watch, and blood pressure with a stethoscope and a cuff. Now, they can use technology to get answers about a patient’s condition within seconds. Pulse taking and blood pressure is all automated and very accurate. No one can deny that technology has significantly changed the healthcare industry (Powell, Nelson, & Patterson).
The effect of technology on health care can be understood better by taking a look back at its history and how it got where it is today. Today’s medicine is drastically different from 30 years ago. In the 1970’s most providers used a paper system to manage their health care organizations (HCO’s). Computers were hardly an advantage back then. Computers were very large, ran off a mainframe, and required someone with extensive knowledge to run it. It wasn’t gaining popularity. But, there was technology being developed and in the late 70’s, the minicomputer made its debut. It was a little smaller, more affordable, and was gradually being accepted into HCO’s everywhere. HCO’s were looking for help because Medicare reimbursement legislation came into play (Johnson, 2003).
In the 1980’s, Medicare introduced the prospective payment system, then Medicaid and private insurance followed suit. Lucky for medical administration, the microcomputer came out and was available for HCO’s to purchase. It was more affordable than the minicomputer and mainframe computers of the 70’s. The market was growing for administrative information systems because of changes in insurance reimbursement. These systems were used to support management functions like billing, patient financial services, materials management, and human resources. It wasn’t long before it was able to assist with other department’s duties in such areas as radiology, the laboratory, and pharmacy. Even with all the capabilities technology encompassed at the time, it was still significantly limited because of small file capacities (Jamal, McKenzie, & Clark, 2009).
The ability to have greater administrative applications and clinical uses for technology was becoming increasingly important in the 1990’s. Health care reform, the growth of managed care, and the advent of the internet set about major changes in technology at this time. The cost of hardware was finally going down and becoming more widely available for HCO’s. It changed how they marketed their services, conducted business, and communicated. When technology vendors saw the growing popularity of computers in health care, the vendor community exploded with those creating hardware and software to make a profit. As a result, a more wide range of services were becoming available to providers. Computers could now help with admissions, discharge, scheduling, accounts receivable, and payroll.
Coming out of the 90’s, there was a greater need for computerization of the clinical side of health care. There was beginning to be an availability of larger databases and integration of the internet into health care practices. Legislation also dictated that there should be changes in technology as well. For example, The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), was starting to be finalized in the early 2000’s. It laid out privacy laws for electronic health records (EHR’s). Then in 2004, President Bush created the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and in 2009 the HITECH Act called for providers to start implementing EMR’s. Because of the legislation raising standards, the large growing need for administrative and clinical technology and rising costs of health care, new technology is being developed at a rapid rate. Clinical aspects are a bigger focus and computers are helping doctors do everything from electronic prescriptions to access patient history at the swipe of a finger (Thedes & Sewell, 2011).
There are many positive aspects of having technology play such a big part in today’s health care. The first one that comes to mind is that it allows patients to become their own advocate and be more informed when it comes to their care. The internet has made it possible for people to get online and look up symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments. It has become the biggest source for providing people with medical information. Patients are arriving at their doctor’s offices informed and ready to ask questions. Most patients would come to the office, scared and unknowing, let their doctor take the lead and blindly follow them. Technology has raised patient’s expectations and they now demand the newest and best care. Most patients will seek out providers with more technology and services available to them. Patients can also form support groups online through forums. This aids in giving a patient an outlet for asking questions of others with the same condition, or somewhere to turn for support so they can become more
empowered (Krueger, 2010).
Another benefit of technology is that it has increased patient safety. The newest services and procedures aren’t always safe for patients. Technology makes it possible to assess if they are useful and effective, or if they have possible negative aspects. It does this by “gathering appropriate data, storing and analyzing the data, and reporting the information generated in a user-friendly format.” (Shi & Singh, 2012). Technology can also reduce medical errors in patient care by finding prescription drug interactions, or recognize incorrect dosage amounts.
Electronic medical records can benefit both the provider and the patient. EMR’s can store any information that pertains to a patient; for example, demographics, symptoms, diagnoses, care plans, patient progress, medications, records from other doctors, medical history, vital signs, immunizations, and test results. When doctors have access to all this information, it adds to continuity of care which is always a positive for patients. According to healthit.gov, EHR’s help doctor’s to provide better quality of care to patients. Dr. Jennifer Brull is a big advocate for them and says that it has provided her with the tools to give better preventative care. She says that when a patient comes in and she looks at their EHR, she is still able to see if they are up to date on vaccinations, if they had a flu shot, or if they are due for a mammogram. Her numbers for colon cancer screenings have gone from 37% up to 81%. Dr. Brull was able to find colon cancer early in several patients. They didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation because it was discovered so early. EHR’s contribute in many positive ways (Using EHRs).
Social media is gradually making its way into the health care world. Health care organizations are reaching patients through social sites like Facebook and Blogspot. It provides a forum for providers to establish a form of contact with potential and current patients, answer questions, educate the public, encourage preventative services, and reach out to those who don’t have access any other way.
Because technology has made it possible to have better machines and medicines available, there is much better quality of health care which in turn leads to less pain and suffering for patients. There are also better treatments which save patient’s lives and greatly increase the chances of recovering from major illnesses or conditions.
Google claims that it can correctly predict trends in health care. By analyzing the health information that people search for on their website, they can see a pattern develop and make predictions based on that. This is a great tool that could help the medical community respond to issues like outbreaks and get them contained before they become uncontrollable (Krueger, 2010).
People in areas where health care is unavailable or hard to access, now have the ability to receive a form of it through telemedicine. “Telemedicine is when medical information is exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications for the health and education of the patient or health care provider and for the purpose of improving patient care” (Telemedicine). Patients don’t have to drive to a provider anymore. They can just get online, open a chat program or a video application like Skype, and talk to a doctor over the computer. Telemedicine also allows for several health care professionals, who aren’t in the same location, to have a conference concerning a patient. The Shi and Singh textbook refers to this as e-health. A form of e-health is e-therapy. This is when a patient receives counseling from a mental health professional over the internet. These are all great aspects of new technology (Roine, Ohinmaa, & Hailey, 2001).
There are so many great things about technology, that there has to be a downside, or negative aspect to it. There are a few unintended consequences that technology has caused. For instance, in an effort to reduce errors in health care, patient care information systems have been developed and implemented. But instead of reducing errors, they have increased. Most of the error is human caused errors, though. Because of extra work that information entry entails, system users tend to make the most mistakes in the process of entering and retrieving information. This can be prevented by the users of the systems. They need to slow down and be more aware of what they are doing and they will see a reduction in errors (Ash, Berg, & Colera, 2003).
Growing costs of technology adds to the negative aspects of it. Because of the work put in to develop it and the materials used, new machines and computers can get very expensive for an HCO. Fuchs states that “the primary reason for the increase in the health sector’s share of GDP over the past 30 years is the technological change in medicine.” The health care spending in relation to the GDP has grown faster in the United States than any other country. Do the benefits of technology outweigh the costs? In most cases, yes, but there are some areas where it is not beneficial to have such a rapid growth in technological advances (Fuchs, 1996).
In conclusion, just like most things, there are always good parts and bad parts, but I believe there are more positives than negative when technology is in health care. Like it or not, technology is here to stay and doctors and patients should learn to integrate it into every aspect of their health care. Having technological capabilities can help to advance medicine and include patients in their health care. By having technology, it helps to close the gap between provider and patient. In the past, there was such a huge separation between the two. Patients were intimidated by their doctor did whatever they were told. With technology widely available, patients have the ability to get an online second opinion before they have even left the parking lot with the first doctor. It is truly an amazing concept. Not only are computers helping us move forward, but the machines available are increasing patients quality of life and mortality rates. I am in favor of more technology so my family and I can have access to the best health care that we can. Technology should be encouraged and supported by our people and administration. It would be detrimental not to have it in today’s technology based society.
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