Health improvement through ICT
Healthcare is an important part of any society and the quality of health care is often used as a one of the metrics to measure the quality of life of people living in the society. It is essential since to a great extent, the overall population and work force depend on it. Since so many depend on and are concerned about the quality of healthcare they have, improved quality and availability of healthcare is often included in promises made by politicians and governments.
Genuine improvement has been sought over the years and issues being addressed range from availability of professionals and materials for healthcare to the reduction of response time to matters that require professional attention. This paper focuses on the improvement of healthcare through the use of modern information and communication technologies.
Healthcare deals with all activities to maintain health, it is the provision of medical and related services aimed at maintaining good health, especially through the prevention and treatment of disease (Dictionary.com). Over the years, provision of healthcare has grown complex and continues its climbing trend therefore, new methods are sought to constantly deal with the growing complexity. Information and communication technologies have played key roles in improving and optimizing business processes through 'killer' applications like email, mobile phones and the web. They have improved and made communication and business correspondence very easy and almost painless. It has driven the efficient and reliable production of goods and services to customers. In healthcare, we can apply various information and communication technologies to improve access, quality and reduce cost of healthcare to all. “If healthcare is to achieve major gains in quality, it must be transformed, and information technology will play a key part especially with respect to safety” (David W. Bates, 2003). Some of the key problems with healthcare that can be addressed by information technology include improved access to reference information for research and development, reduction of errors associated with medical tests and drug administration, decision support and improved business process and communication between medical professionals.
Electronic storage systems
There is a need to keep medical records about patients as clinicians often need to know the medical history of a patient in order to make a more accurate diagnosis of a patient. These records have traditionally been stored in flat files and cabinets and are inexpensive to maintain. However, retrieval of relevant files can become increasingly difficult as the volume of files increase. This is expected as the files have to be searched and retrieved manually from the cabinets in which they are stored. Furthermore, it is difficult to backup copies of records of flat files so there is the risk of losing all records in an unfortunate event such as a fire outbreak. The use of an electronic database can eliminate all the problems associated with speedy retrieval of information and also the issue associated with backup. Electronic storage systems will give doctors the ability to quickly access information about patients without incurring the delay associated with manual searching of file cabinets. This will ensure that patients are attended to in a timely manner as all information needed is provided instantly.
Improved access to information
A growing number of people around the world now have access to the Internet. The issue of universal availability of the internet is outside the scope of this paper but it is worthwhile to note that advances in technology has made the internet more accessible and affordable for a greater percentage of governments around the world. The importance of the internet and its benefit to business collaboration, correspondence and social processes cannot be overemphasized. It is possible to access information stored on a computer sitting thousands of miles away at lightening speeds without having to incur the cost of physically traveling to the source. Educational institutions have taken advantage of ICT for their collaboration in research thereby aiding the sharing of knowledge between schools and accelerating the pace of advancement. Healthcare can benefit from the capability offered by ICT.
Doctors and other medical professionals can quickly gain access to reference material for research and development because of the easy access to a wide range of textbooks, drug references and other information. The available materials can also be used for managing infectious diseases in hospitals thereby improving overall quality of healthcare. “Ease and rapidity of use at the point of care were initially problematic but appear to be improving through the use of ICT” (David W. Bates, 2003).
Problems in healthcare can result from failures in communication, and originates from inability to reach a needed medical professional or, communication gaps between clinicians. Clinicians may need to hand off information about a patient or group of patients to fellow clinicians and this need may be time critical, therefore a faster means through which this information can be exchanged is needed. Gaps in communication are among the biggest factors that contribute to adverse events (David W. Bates, 2003). With ICT, clinicians can gain remote access to information stored on clinical records databases with computers and even hand held devices. Information ranges from clinical test results to real time updates on health conditions of patients under a monitoring system. Mobile phones, although common can be used as a medium to receive real time updates through short messaging service (SMS) alerts to clinicians for rapid response to both critical and non critical conditions. Evidence suggests that alert systems may help to improve outcomes, including survival.
Reduction of errors
As with all human endeavors errors are frequent. Many errors have little consequences while others can result in injury or other unfortunate circumstances. In medicine, errors can have bad and huge consequences. (David Bates W, 2001) . The use of ICT in medical procedures may not eliminate errors altogether but can help reduce the frequency of errors when applied to areas where the human mind is error prone. The average human mind is error prone when carrying out complex calculation or analysis. Humans may not be able to carry out complex simulations that involve changing dynamics over time such as drug interactions and their effect on humans so the use of computers and other equipment can reduce potential errors. Being able to perform such operations with reduced incidence of errors will reduce hospital length of stay, and cost and ultimately improve healthcare quality.
In healthcare, special software exists that can assist clinicians in performing various kinds of diagnosis. Given a set of symptoms, some systems based on neural networks and artificial intelligence can predict to a reasonably accurate extent the given disease. These systems can also suggest medication, given a set of parameters. “It has been demonstrated that computerized physician order entry system that incorporate clinical decision support can substantially reduce medication error rates as well as improve the quality and efficiency of medication use” (David Bates W, 2001). Furthermore, these systems can give reasonably accurate inference with parameters in the absence of a physician. So, in situations where a course of action is urgently needed but the physician is absent at the time, the decision support system can help to suggest remedial treatment. This also helps to improve overall healthcare quality.
Business process improvement
The processes involved in patient treatment, diagnosis, drug prescription and monitoring are increasingly complex. Hospital management systems can help reduce the complexity and also simplify processes through streamlined operations. Implicit in hospital management systems is the ability to store or grain speedy access to a patient’s clinical record. Business processes and rules can be directly implemented into the clinical management system which will naturally enforce those rules. For instance, a rule such as “a doctor has to make prescriptions before a patient is allowed to purchase drugs from the hospital pharmacy” can be easily enforced in a software system by defining rules that prevent the pharmacy from issuing drugs to a patient unless a valid prescription record created for that patient by a physician exists in the database. Clinical management software not only helps to streamline operations but also contribute to savings in hospital management costs. “Over fifteen years, the cumulative potential net efficiency and safety savings from hospital systems could be nearly $371 billion” (Richard Hillestad, 2005).
In this paper we looked at ways in which healthcare can be improved with the use of ICT from decision support systems to alert systems. No doubt the deployment of theses system will require substantial investment of resources but they also promise a good return on investment. Adopting ICT in healthcare will significantly improve the quality of healthcare and reduce costs.
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