Technology pervades nearly everything we do today and becomes a bigger part of our lives every day. Healthcare is no exception, and technology impacts how care is given, how it is received, and how information about patients is transmitted and used. Patient should be aware of how technology is used in healthcare, how it can help them, what the risks are, and what the emerging trends in healthcare tech are expected to be.
Privacy and Digital Medical Records
Over the last few decades, medical records have moved from paper files to digital records. This makes healthcare more efficient and more effective, as data can be shared and accessed more easily. However, there is always a concern about privacy. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, was signed into law as medical records were becoming digitized. Among other things, it is supposed to prevent patient information from being shared or used inappropriately or without consent. While medical professionals may adhere to the law, there is always the risk that technology will fail and expose personal patient information.
Blockchain technology may be a solution that healthcare companies will use in the future to help protect patient data. This technology is currently used in cryptocurrency exchanges, but it could be applied to medical information. Blockchain is a type of database that stores information that cannot be changed and that can be kept without identifiable factors that would risk security. The structure of blockchain would allow all kinds of medical data to be stored, shared, and used more securely than now.
Interoperability in Healthcare
Interoperability refers to devices and technology systems being able to share and use data. When two systems or devices are interoperable it means that they not only can share data, but they can also present that data in a way that is readable. This concept is important in healthcare as patient information becomes digitized.
Doctors need to be able to send and receive information, like test results, referrals, and other important data so that care providers can communicate and collaborate to provide the best patient care. Good interoperability also improves patient engagement, allowing patients to access and interact with their own medical data. It is also important for efficiency and timeliness in healthcare. And, interoperability helps smooth care transitions and bolsters continuity of care. All of this helps provide better outcomes for patients.
Standards for healthcare interoperability have been decided on by the federal government’s Interoperability Standards Advisory, or ISA. The ISA aims to provide standards that should be used across the entire healthcare system to provide better interoperability. It also aims to make improvements with security in mind and to take into account the comments and recommendations of the public and the healthcare industry.
Patient Portals and Personal Health Records
Many patients by now have become familiar with patient portals. These are websites that patients can log into securely to view their personal health records. Many doctor’s offices now use these sites, which allow patients to view the results of tests, updates on appointments, doctor’s instructions and recommendations, educational resources, and notes on appointments and exams. In some cases the electronic medical records that doctors use may be integrated into portals, but not always.
The point of using patient portals is to increase the engagement of patients in their own healthcare, and thereby to increase the effectiveness of care. The days when patients only listened to their doctors, taking their advice without any input or thought are mostly gone. Doctors now want patients engaged, informed, and making decisions about their own care.
A patient portal can also make healthcare more efficient and convenient. Patients can schedule or change appointments through the portal, get refills on prescriptions, update insurance or personal information, make payments, and get referrals. Secure emails can be used to communicate with doctors and ask questions. Notifications and email reminders also help ensure patients don’t miss appointments.
Distance healthcare is becoming more common, and there are a lot of ways patients can benefit from it. But there are issues with it too, and patients need to be aware of when it is appropriate and beneficial to use these services, and when it is best to actually go to a doctor’s office or hospital. Telehealth refers to any kind of distance care, such as emailing questions to your primary doctor or using an online nursing service or even chatting through a video call with a doctor to get care.
Some of the benefits are obvious. It saves time and money when you can get an answer to medical questions online or through your phone. Telehealth also provides greater access for people in rural areas or anywhere else that is underserved by medical care. With wearable technology devices, patients can even remotely send their doctors information about blood glucose, blood pressure, and other health measures.
A downside may be when patients misuse telehealth, when they choose to try to get an answer online when really they should be going in to see a doctor face to face. There may be failures in technology or healthcare workers who are not adequately trained to use it. There can also be issues with continuity of care, as many telehealth services connect a patient to a random doctor who has never seen them before.
Wearable technology is becoming more common, and many people now use it for fitness purposes, to count steps and to train. For healthcare, wearable technology will likely become more prevalent in the future. It could include devices that measure all kinds of health factors, like blood pressure, heart rate, sleep state, fitness level, blood sugar levels, and much more.
This kind of wearable healthcare can benefit patients in many ways and goes along with many other technology trends in health and medicine. For instance, data from wearable tech could be uploaded to telehealth programs so that doctors have more information about a patient without actually needing to see the patient. These devices may also help improve patient engagement, getting them more involved in their own wellness and health measures. As with all other areas of healthcare technology, privacy and security will continue to be a concern.
Technology in healthcare is only growing, and is expected to continue to make medicine more advanced, efficient, and effective, while also posing risks and challenges. As a patient you have the opportunity to use these technologies in ways that can benefit your care. Take advantage of healthcare portals, wearable technology, and telemedicine, while also understanding and addressing the risks. Using technology is now an important part of being a smart healthcare consumer.