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In today’s debate about healthcare in the U.S., everyone is looking for ways to provide better services, to more people, more quickly and for less cost.  Health Information Technology (HIT) does that!

The term, Health Information Technology (HIT), however, is unfamiliar and a bit confusing.  It is often – and unhelpfully – defined as “the application of technology to healthcare.”  Some people fear that this means they will only be able to see their physician through a TV or that their medical records will be placed on computers that provide less privacy protection.  Neither is true.

One way to think of HIT is to divide the topic into three areas: direct care, education and administrative services.  This newsletter provides insight into “What’s Current, What’s Coming, and What’s Possiblein direct care.  The next two newsletters address the impact of HIT in healthcare education and administrative services respectively.

Direct Care: What’s Current?

Currently the direct care portion of HIT includes a number of ways technology is used in patient healthcare.  These include surgeries via robots, genetically tailored vaccines, and advances in body chemistry testing.  One example is a patch that diabetics can wear on their arms that both: 1) continuously tracks the wearer’s blood sugar levels, and 2) transmits the results, at regular intervals, to a separate monitor or the wearer’s cell phone.  This:

1) avoids diabetics having to prick their fingers several times a day to monitor their blood sugar levels, and 2) allows the wearer and his/her physician to receive the periodic results wirelessly to better manage the diabetic’s insulin needs.  Where appropriate, the parents, adult children, or caregivers of the diabetic can also receive wireless updates to assist in the patch wearer’s care.  This use of technology in direct care provides more consistent care for diabetics at far less pain and cost than the traditional “needle stick” tests.  

What’s Coming?

In the future, the application of technology to many healthcare needs includes advances in quick turnaround lab reporting, backpack-size MRI machines, electronic records, and the use of nanobots in disease treatment.  For diabetics, the testing patch will also communicate wirelessly with the wearer’s insulin delivery patch to provide an appropriate and timely delivery of insulin.  Other patches will also administer time-release medications and monitor heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, and arterial flow to provide healthcare tailored to each individual.  

What’s Possible?

Medical care on shows such as Star Trek and Star Wars provided science fiction glimpses into What’s Possible in direct patient healthcare.  Those are actually fairly close to what is being developed.  Holographic x-rays and improved sonograms are just a few of the technologically driven advances in direct patient healthcare.  Overall, the most significant advances will be the cumulative improvements in the quality, safety and efficiency of the health delivery system.

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