Health Information Technology – A bane or a boon?
Kasturba Medical College, Manipal
Health information technology (HIT) is “the application of information processing involving both computer hardware and software that deals with the storage, retrieval, sharing, and use of health care information, health data, and knowledge for communication and decision making” . Health informatics tools include clinical guidelines, communication platforms, nursing informatics, pharmacy informatics, clinical research informatics (CRI) and most importantly, clinical informatics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the proper collection, management and use of information within healthcare “will determine the system’s effectiveness in detecting health problems, defining priorities, identifying innovative solutions and allocating resources to improve health outcomes”.
The benefits if healthcare informatics have noticeable effects on clinical performance, data storage, legal protection and patient-physician relationship. The integration of information technology in healthcare will improve healthcare quality, increase productivity, decrease paperwork, prevent medical errors, reduce costs and expand access. With proper structuring and inclusion of interoperability in HIT, this will improve access to information, refurbish education and provide improved compliance to accreditation standards.
Although the electronic health record (EHR) or the electronic medical record (EMR) is the pivot of healthcare informatics, but it is not everything that is to this field. Other tools in clinical informatics include Integrated data repository, that acts as a data warehouse for long-term and large-scale storage of clinical data for subsequent usage in evaluation, research, audits and as performance indicators. Clinical research informatics (CRI) is a subfield of HIT that improves efficiency of clinical research and clinical trials by the use of electronic data capture systems, maintenance of repositories and comparing and synchronizing the captured data. Common data elements (CDEs) in clinical research integrate and compare data from multiple clinical trials for multi-center, large-scale studies. There are several data-sharing platforms such as Project Data Sphere, working in this field as well.
Hospital Information Systems (HIS) is a component of HIT that focuses mainly on the administrational roles, including legal, medical and financial issues, of a hospital. It provides a common platform for the entire history of patient with limited and controlled access to caregivers. It protects hospitals and physicians from common handwriting errors, documentation time and record keeping.
Health information management (HIM) is the practice of acquiring, analyzing and protecting digital and traditional medical information vital to providing quality patient care. Other courses providing training on HIT include Masters of Health Information Management, Masters of Business Administration, Masters of Health Administration, or other Masters programs in health data management, information technology and systems. There are several professional organizations such as American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), American Society of Health Informatics Managers (ASHIM) and Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA), among multiple others, that issue guidelines and regulations on HIT. It also continuously monitors the efficiency and safety of these platforms and provide training, wherever needed.
Among all the sophisticated technology of HIT and its possible benefits, there are several limitations that are more often overlooked as an excuse for technological advancement. A well-protected, efficiently-working technology like this does not come cheap. It is difficult to justify its expense in the political current scenario of Universal Health Coverage. It is not uncommon for HIT platforms to face technical hurdles, slow adaptation or even the inability of physicians and nurses to get acquainted with this technology.
Security has been another big concern for patients and providers in terms of Healthcare Informatics and its possible inclusion in patient care. It is susceptible to hackers and vulnerable to government entanglements. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has tried to protect this element by setting the standards for sensitive patient data protection. Anyone who has access to patient information and provides support in treatment, payment, or operations must meet HIPAA Compliance.
Over the years, HIT has taken the medical field by storm and has helped strengthen physician-patient relationship and enhance patient privacy. There is no doubt that its multi-level inclusion will involve numerous challenges and boundaries that will have to be dealt with collaborations, innovations and thinking beyond the realms of core medical field.
- Brailer, D. (2004). The decade of health information technology. HHS Report, July, 21.
- Stansfield S. (2005). “Structuring information and incentives to improve health”. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 83(8):562.
- Shekelle, Paul; Morton, Sally C.; Keeler, Emmett B. (April 2006). Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology (Report). Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.