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Changing Trends in Health Care, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Advances in information technology have altered the landscape in virtually every sector, public and private, and have clearly made significant changes in the healthcare industry.  Such advances have had a tremendous impact on the manner in which healthcare is delivered to patients, between doctors, and within institutions and healthcare facilities.  The Internet, as well as other electronic means of communication, has represented a major force in changing the way medical information is being shared.  Internet communication can make it possible for doctors to maintain and share electronic medical records, to order tests and medications as well as procedures and to engage in evidence-based practice (Information and Communication Systems: The Backbone of the Health Care Delivery System, 2005.)  This paper will discuss the ways in which technology is affecting the communication and record keeping in the healthcare field, and will also discuss the potential drawbacks of such advances.

Computers have completely changed the way that medical data is exchanged between professionals, while the use of the Internet has allowed doctors and other healthcare providers to conveniently share information and expertise quickly and efficiently in situations that require such collaboration (Healthcare Delivery and the Role the Internet Plays, 2004.) Utilizing such methods as e-mail is an inexpensive way of exchanging important information about patients among doctors as well as pharmaceutical staff in an effort to provide coordination of care.  In addition, electronic media such as web sites, e-mail, and webcasts allow consumers and medical providers to learn more about medical equipment and treatments that are available or forthcoming.  Currently, when consumers receive a medical diagnosis, they are likely to seek information about the illness or condition by conducting research over the Internet, so that they are better informed and can play a more active role in their treatment.  This may or may not be uniformly well received by their doctors, however, since patients can be more aggressive in advocating for themselves and this can possibly make them more demanding, from the perspective of a medical provider.

In addition, the Internet makes it possible for healthcare providers to schedule appointments for patients quickly and efficiently, and for patients to do the same from their computers or wireless devices.  These are clearly cost saving measures, as they reduce the time needed by support staff to engage in those activities.  In addition, using the Internet allows doctors and other healthcare providers to instantly communicate with pharmacies electronically to transmit prescriptions and other orders.

The exchange of information between providers is a vital element in the delivery of care at every level of the healthcare system: the patient, the medical team, the health care organization, and the political and economic environment (Information and Communication Systems: The Backbone of the Health Care Delivery System, 2005.) Competent treatment involves access to a variety of sorts of medical information, including the health record belonging to a given patient, the evolving medical base of knowledge regarding his or her condition, and the directives given by the provider to manage the treatment plan for the patient.  All the aspects of this plan can be most efficiently shared by electronic means.  It is also important for medical providers to seek information about the preferences and values of the patient, as well as information about the administrative capabilities of the setting including whether and when supporting resources, such as staff and hospital beds, may be available and when.  All of this data can be easily track and maintained by using the Internet to keep careful records of this material.

Distance delivery, sometimes referred to as remote healthcare monitoring, refers to the process of evaluating the status of a patient while that person and their health care provider are not together physically in the same setting (Nugent, 2011.) Traditional evaluation of patients usually involves a face to face meeting in the office of the physician, nurse, or other provider, but because of the progress in technology, medical devices, sensors, and wireless devices are a realistic and cost efficient alternative to deliver the assessment procedure directly to the patient instead of utilizing limitations inherent in going to a doctor’s office or a hospital outpatient setting.  Technology has made it possible for patients to have their vital signs tracked and their symptoms evaluated while conveniently staying in their homes, offices, or even when they are involved in activities that make it inconvenient to take the time and travel to a medical setting.  In addition, improvements in information technology may soon be able to permit members of the medical community who do not have comfortable access to metropolitan areas to attend seminars and conferences through webcasts over the Internet (Chang.)

The use of electronic medical records in hospital and other medical settings can be a tremendous asset in preventing medical mistakes in diagnoses and treatments.  Patient safety must be the top priority in the provision of health care services, and it is arguably one of the most important policy issues that should confront the industry as a whole.  One solution to the all-too-frequent incidence of medical mistakes would be to engage in the widespread use of electronic medical records, or EMRs.  In the United States, more than $1.6 trillion is spent annually on healthcare, in spite of this, Americans pay a great deal more for their medical care than any other population in the world; however, they are also in the unfortunate position of experiencing some of the highest medical error rates in any industrialized nation (Crane, 2007.) The bulk of these mistakes involve treatment that does not improve patients’ conditions, is unnecessary, inappropriate, unsuccessful, or wasteful.

This bleak data is coupled with the fact that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans lose their lives as a result of these errors.  These numbers are higher than the death rate caused by car accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS, so that the commission of medical errors amounts to the eighth leading cause of death and the United States (Crane, 2007.) For the purposes of this discussion, medical errors refer to failing to finish a planned action that is intended, as well as implementing a plan that is incorrect for accomplishing a certain objective.  In any case, in the majority of these situations, such mistakes are preventable, and one of the methods to reduce the incidence of medical errors is through maintaining EMRs.  This solution is a viable one because despite beliefs to the contrary, in fact medical mistakes are not usually the result of negligence or incompetence.  Rather, medical errors occur as a result of the ways in which the health system is organized and the ways in which care is delivered (Crane, 2007.) For example, if a person is admitted to a hospital for treatment, they are vulnerable to a system that is obsolete, archaic, extremely fragmented, and prone to errors.  In many if not most cases, the patient’s medical data is spread across various medical files maintained by a variety of providers that are located in many locations or different departments.  Typically, patients do not have a copy of their own updated medical record, so that all of the pertinent medical information is not organized at any location at the point of service.  As a result, patients are frequently treated and diagnosed by doctors who have no access to his or her records that should contain relevant information such as current and past treatments, medications history, and allergy information.

In addition, frequently doctors simply store information about medications, drug interactions, protocols and guidelines, and results of clinical trials their memory rather than as a formal documentation.  Often, medical orders and prescriptions are written by hand and are not necessarily understood or followed as prescribed.  This medley of factors acts in combination to create the distinct possibility those medical mistakes will occur.  One of the solutions may have a tremendous impact on avoiding such errors would be the implementation of EMRs.  This technology has the potential to help healthcare providers to eliminate medical mistakes by facilitating improvements in communication as well as providing improved access to medical information along with patients’ medical histories.  For example, doctors would have easy access to the medical records of patients order to ensure that any new prescribed medications do not interact with current drugs; the records would allow doctors to search for drug allergies as well as adverse drug reactions (Crane, 2007.) In addition, maintaining electronic medical records provides an easy opportunity to continuously update patient records that can be shared with all of the providers who are involved with a specific patient.

Patient safety in hospital settings as well as other medical environments would be enhanced with the use of EMRs in many ways.  At the point of admission, all relevant medical information would be entered electronically, beginning with the history gathered at admission and including all diagnostic tests and radiological studies, notes from nurses and physicians, so that all of this data would be saved and securely stored in a secure a file to promote patient safety.  Using electronic medical records in this way would likely result in lives saved because of the decrease in medical errors.  This would also cause a reduction in healthcare costs besides undoubtedly enhancing the quality of the services.

Naturally, along with the technological advances applied to the health care profession, there are ethical considerations that must be taken into account in order to preserve the integrity of care.  Although clearly, advances in technology have had a positive effect on the medical field, there are certain risks inherent in this progress that potentially may threaten to sabotage that progress.  For example, technologies and equipment could possibly create barriers to communication between doctors and their patients, and leading to a lack of individualization of the patient as a unique person (Hattab, 2004.) Technology also reinforces a dependence on practice that is based on narrow specialization, which risks having the medical provider regard the patient simply as a specific system or organ, rather than considering the patient in a holistic way that takes into account the social, psychological, and biological features of any patient.  Finally, there is a risk that advances in technology will create abuses of those methods, since there are so many sophisticated procedures and diagnostic tools that they may be utilized more frequently than necessary instead of carefully considering whether the use of this technology is actually indicated for the specific patient rather than more traditional treatment methods.

Technological advances in the healthcare field are, for the most part, tremendously advantageous on many fronts.  Patient care benefits because of the ease and enhanced communication between healthcare providers so that the coordination of care is more likely to occur consistently.  In addition, because of the vast amount of information that is possible to find on the Internet, patients are better informed and in a better position to advocate for themselves, as opposed to past times when patients found themselves at the mercies of the doctors that they were seeing.  In that situation, doctors did not necessarily share actual diagnoses and prognoses with their patients; with advances in technology, however, patients can learn much about their conditions themselves.  Certainly, that can be a mixed blessing, but it is primarily advantageous for consumers.  In addition, healthcare providers can develop treatment plans and coordinate the more easily with others involved in the care of a certain patient.  Along with the drawbacks that were previously mention, technological progress in the healthcare field has the potential to result in improved quality of care as long as it is not overused and is used appropriately.

References:

Chang, S. (n.d.). Do Health Care Providers Need the Internet? Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Distance Learning in Telemedicine: www.hyperlinked.com/met net/telemed.html

Crane, J. N., & Crane, F. G. (2008). The adoption of electronic medical record technology in order to prevent medical errors: a matter for American public policy. Policy Studies, 29(2), 137-143.

Hattab, A. (2004). Current Trends in Teaching Ethics of Healthcare Practices. Developing World Bioethics, 4(2), 160-172.

Health Care Delivery and the Role the Internet Plays. (2004, September 24). Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Scicasts: http://scicasts.com/analysis/1006-healthcare-it/1016-healthcare-delivery-and-the-role-the-internet-plays

National Academy of Engineering (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Engineering and the Health Care System; Reid PP, Compton WD, Grossman JH, et al., eds.. Building a Better Delivery System: A New Engineering/Health Care Partnership. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2005. 4, Information and Communications Systems: The Backbone of the Health Care Delivery System. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22862/

Nugent, C. D., Finlay, D., Davies, R., Donnelly, M., Hallberg, J., Black, N. D., & Craig, D. (2011). Remote Health Care Monitoring and Assessment. Technology & Health Care, 19(4), 295-306

Health Care Delivery and the Role the Internet Plays. (2004, September 24). Retrieved February 22, 2013, from Scicasts: http://scicasts.com/analysis/1006-healthcare-it/1016-healthcare-delivery-and-the-role-the-internet-plays

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