As healthcare moves into a new era of efficiency, effectiveness and improved patient outcomes through health information technology, consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has identified the top nine ways health IT is transforming healthcare. Among the changes with the greatest impact are reduced medical errors and faster emergency care.
"Good healthcare is no longer about just good doctors and good hospitals; it's about connectivity, it's about data, it's about information, it's about speed to treatment and health IT enables each of those," said Robert M. Pearl, MD, the executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group.
"Many people associate health IT simply with the electronic storage of health records," said Kristine Martin Anderson, a senior vice president in Booz Allen Hamilton's healthcare market. "In reality, health IT is much more transformative. It's a strong collection of technologies, analytics and process innovations that are already revolutionizing the way people receive and manage their care in communities across the nation."
The Booz Allen Hamilton report noted that health IT has tremendous potential to make the healthcare system patient-centered. Today, through new mobile technology, doctors can receive real-time information about a patient's condition. Now, a firefighter who has heart attack symptoms on the job can be diagnosed before he reaches the hospital, allowing him to receive treatment within 30 minutes of noticing symptoms – not hours. Remote monitoring technology and video conferencing allow caregivers to monitor a patient's vitals and discuss their current condition without the patient even leaving home.
The nine ways health IT is transform healthcare, as selected by Booz Allen, are listed on the next page.
Top 9 ways health IT is transforming healthcare
The following list was developed from research by Booz Allen, which works with leading federal, nonprofit and commercial healthcare clients to understand how to effectively utilize health IT, such as existing and emerging data from electronic health records, claims, and laboratory data, to implement payment reform, comparative effectiveness, quality measurement and improvement, research and development, and translational research.
- Reduces medical errors. Health IT helps to identify potential mistakes, such as flagging possible interactions between prescribed medications that may cause serious complications.
- Improves collaboration throughout the healthcare system. Unlike paper records, digitized health information can move, integrate and paint a real-time picture of the whole person, creating increased knowledge, dialogue and collaboration among the patient and his or her physicians, specialists, nurses and technicians. This leads to improved patient-centered understanding and coordinated action. It can also enhance preventative care, by automating a reminder system for certain tests like mammograms.
- Ensures better patient-care transition. As patients move from the hospital to outpatient settings--going home, to assisted living facilities, or to long-term care facilities – health IT facilitates a seamless transition from one stage of care to the next and ensures that patients get the treatment and medicine they need without delays or mix-ups.
- Enables faster, better emergency care. When seconds can make the difference, today's technology allows results from tests conducted by first responders to be sent wirelessly to doctors in the emergency departments, allowing physicians to be ready and waiting with a plan of action when the patient arrives. Health IT also can facilitate access to an incoming patient's health information--even if the patient is incapacitated--alerting providers of any existing conditions, allergies and prescriptions.
- Empowers patients and their families to participate in care decisions. Health IT provides patients more access to their medical information and information about their health care options, which empowers them to become informed and educated advocates for their own care. At the same time, as patients have more access to their medical information and use health IT to make decisions, their families--who play a critical role in their care -- can play a more active, personal role. In addition, health IT allows for care customized to each patient's unique situation, whether that means allowing families access to information to help in decision-making, or ensuring information is culturally appropriate.
- Makes care more convenient for patients. Health IT enables online appointment scheduling, online wait time displays for emergency departments, and the convenience of e-mailing your doctor. Also with health IT, a patient's medical history, prescription information and test results are at their care provider's fingertips, saving the patient the burden of providing the information repeatedly to different doctors. In addition, telemedicine, remote monitoring and mobile technology give health care professionals the ability to treat patients at home, saving travel and wait times.
- Helps care for the warfighter. When military medics have immediate access to medical records, they can forward critical information on wounded warriors to field hospitals. That information follows the soldiers as they journey from the front line back to rehabilitation in the states.
- Enhances ability to respond to public health emergencies and disasters. Data can be aggregated and used to improve public health, helping to understand outbreaks in communities and allowing appropriate responses. In disaster situations such as a hurricane, health IT can give practitioners access to a patient's medical history, regardless of where their medical information lives. When Joplin, Missouri, was hit with a catastrophic tornado earlier this year, the paper records for a local hospital were scattered throughout the region, but the electronic medical records were intact, allowing treatment to continue at alternate facilities.
- Enables discovery in new medical breakthroughs and provides a platform for innovation. As patient information becomes digitized, researchers can now analyze large sets of anonymous data, facilitating the rapid introduction of new therapies and better analysis on the effectiveness of medications and treatments. In addition, through the increased use of new, innovative mobile technologies and social networking tools, health IT offers the health care industry new ways to understand and administer care to patients.