It may be a few years away before the well-known paper patient charts are completely eliminated in American hospitals. The technology exists today, though, and more hospitals are replacing the aluminum clipboards with digital touch pads that automatically track patients and their records through the entire continuum of hospitalization.
Studies in the healthcare settings which use touch pads show that patients are getting comfortable with their most personal information stored digitally. As regulatory agencies develop new policies and procedures, more and more healthcare consumers will be using digital technology in ways that could have only been imagined before. Healthcare providers need to make sure they stay ahead of the curve.
As hospitals and physicians face increasing challenges from knowledgeable patients and patient care, technology is becoming more important. Without a doubt, digital tools are here to stay and they are making healthcare more affordable, accessible and personalized. Patients are equipped to proactively engage in their own care and treatment and are coming to the healthcare provider with sophisticated questions and they want answers.
Just how enthusiastic are physicians about integrating the newest digital technologies? What part does digital technology, such as smart phones, wearable sensors and apps, fit into routine, everyday patient care? If the provider goes beyond recreational use, they will find that mainstream healthcare consumers want to see a tangible value as part of the measured, planned treatment outcome.
As consumers become progressively well-informed about healthcare issues through information found online, many physicians are finding consumers want access to a technology-intensive treatment method. Sometimes a long-term problem requires a solution that is both inexpensive and low-tech. Hand-washing is one such example. A simple hand-washing regimen can help fight the 100,000 deaths and $30 billion spent annually on nosocomial infections, yet it has been shown that only about a third of hospital staff meet the standard. Economic considerations may open the door for creative solutions such as sensors. The return-on-investment to prevent hospital-acquired infections would certainly be worth the minimal cost of the devices.
Another tool of modern technology in healthcare that I sometimes use in my practice is “telemedicine.” Telemedicine has proven to be successful in places like Australia where the distance between physician and patient is great as well as in countries such as India where there are too many patients clustered around too few providers. Smartphones, with their improved technology, that includes video transmissions, are raising telemedicine to new levels. Even in countries with an abundance of technology, digital healthcare is making its presence felt. Whether in Idaho where patients are spread out over hundreds of miles or Chicago where patients can walk into a pharmacy and contact a physician on video, the technological advances are easing access to thousands of consumers.
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Driving the push towards utilizing smartphones in healthcare settings is the refinement of Near Field Communication, or NFC. NFC is a short-range, wireless connection standard that allows devices to communicate when they’re simply brought within a few inches of each other.
While full integration of NFC into health care work systems may still be several years away, there’s plenty of potential right now with 2014 standards. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing current regulatory requirements to clarify the question of what part of a smartphone app is, or can be, classified as a medical device. Once the FDA settles the issue, digital technology in health care settings could advance rapidly.
Whether sole-practice, group practice or a hospital setting, the wise medical care provider may want to start learning about the latest tools in modern digital healthcare.