You would think with all the innovative medical technology and its constant interaction with patients, that healthcare would have embraced information technology.
Whilst huge efforts and funds have gone into healthcare IT, very few developed countries can say they have electronic medical records. It seems through incentives and desire for advancing patient care, some hospitals and care providers in the US are getting there.
However, it is still patchy even in the US and the UK lags further behind. Patients’ cannot attend hospitals or doctors outside their hometown and expect those providers to be able to access their medical record. The National Programme for IT in the UK was supposed to provide the backbone for such systems but it failed. There are many good things happening within the healthcare IT field in the UK but getting a national electronic medical record is not in sight in the near future. Even getting an integrated system that prevents data being entered twice is still not achieved in many hospitals.
There are several reasons for healthcare lagging behind other industries in IT.
Firstly, expenditure on IT has always been sacrificed for medical equipment and technology since that is always perceived as bringing in the bucks. Secondly, due to lack of investment into IT, there is a shortage of software vendors in the market. Thirdly, the clinicians and medical staff were slow adopters of IT – hand writing patient notes was always faster than having to type information into computers and changing current processes is not easy. Finally, there is a perception that patient information would be compromised with computer systems, although paper files always go missing or end up in the boots of doctors’ cars!
Thankfully, some of these issues are now being overcome with the advent of open systems and the consumerisation of healthcare. The iPad has had a huge and largely unintended impact on healthcare as doctors and medical staff adopted these as consumers. Smartphones have added to this coming revolution. Patients as consumers now expect to be able to communicate with their doctors’ on these devices and to access their medical records online. Healthcare apps appear to be increasing by the day.
Also, every bit of medical equipment manufactured today to diagnose or monitor patients’ now have software which enable exchange of information and the ability to store this data into a patient’s individual record. So achieving the electronic medical record is possible as long as the will is there to invest into changing current processes.
It will be patients’ pressure that makes this revolution happen.
Meanwhile, I will have to keep calling my doctor’s surgery to make an appointment until the ability to make an online appointment appears on my smartphone in a few years time….hopefully!