Health Care Informatics

8 Technologies That Are Changing Health Care

Jonathan Mack PhD, RN-BC, NP

Jonathan Mack PhD, RN-BC, NP

Director of Health Care and Nursing Informatics and Health Systems Leadership

Today, health informatics and technology — a discipline that combines information systems, data, communications and medical care —are revolutionizing the health care industry, as the majority of medical institutions become compliant with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). In accordance with HITECH, health care facilities are now required to maintain electronic records for every patient, giving researchers, clinicians, and medical facilities access to data they have never been able to leverage before. Now, the possibilities this data holds for human health are being explored from every angle.

Here are eight ways health informatics and technology will shape the future.

1. mHealth

health informatics and technology

mHealth, the use of mobile technology for patient care, is offering a much more convenient patient experience and streamlining care. An increasing array of mobile apps are enabling patients to better manage their health, communicate with healthcare providers, schedule appointments, and access health information. The technology is also helping providers improve patient compliance with tools that provide remote monitoring of certain health conditions and medical devices, Wellframe, Retrofit, MedWand, WellDoc, Pager, Oscar Health and Hometeam are just a handful of mobile technology companies that are working on applications to transform how doctors and patients interact in the modern era.

2. Telemedicine

Telemedicine, much like mHealth, deals with virtual communication between patient and physician. With telemedicine, doctors are able to see and treat patients through video conferencing, eliminating the need for patients to drive to a physician’s office or clinic. Telemedicine is a boon for the thousands of people every year who don’t have access to medical care because they live in a remote location, lack transportation options, or are not ambulatory. In recent years, some medical centers have even expanded their telemedicine capabilities to the surgical suite – remotely performing intricate robotic surgeries on patients many miles away – or even around the world.

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3. Interoperable Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) Systems

Interoperability, “the extent to which systems and devices can exchange data, and interpret that shared data,” according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), is still a pipe dream for the health care industry. Yet, it is a goal that those in the industry are working steadily toward achieving. In order to gain the most benefit from the new influx of patient data and realize the full potential of the healthcare informatics movement, systems and networks must be interoperable. The healthy and open flow of information among health care practitioners, patients and networks will ultimately lead to better health care and more informed patients who are in charge of their own health.

4. Electronic Health Records

Enacted in 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) required that all health care providers adopt electronic medical records (also called electronic health records or EHRs) by 2015. This legislation paved the way for the growth in health care informatics and the age of big data within health care, as well as the possibility for interoperability of patient records between providers. As digital records of a patient’s health history, EHRs should offer an improved continuity of care for patients and better outcomes by ensuring that doctors are diagnosing and treating patients based on a holistic picture of their past and current health. EHRs are also expected to improve coordination of care between providers, reduce healthcare disparities, and streamline processes such as e-prescribing.

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5. Wearables

health informatics and technology

Wearables offer yet another avenue beyond electronic patient records to collect data, increase prevention and improve health outcomes for users. The smart watch and Fitbit are two of the most well known wearables but there are many more on the market and currently in development that monitor everything from sleep and rest patterns to heart rate and calories. As the wearables industry continues to expand, developers are looking at ways to take the technology even further, beyond just monitoring fitness and activity levels. “For instance, Intel teamed up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to use wearables to find certain characteristics of Parkinson’s disease,” according to TechRepublic.

6. The Cloud

The health care industry was slow to adopt the cloud, but that is quickly changing. With the plethora of data flooding into health centers through EHRs, the cloud is becoming a more relevant and trusted mechanism to store and share big data. IBM Watson is one example of a cloud-based technology that is “bringing together clinical, research and social data from a diverse range of health sources” to advance care and speed up communication. While security and privacy of patient data has always been a concern for health centers, the cloud has introduced new challenges and concerns surrounding the possibility of cyber attacks or digital information breaches. Yet, many experts agree that the cloud is a more secure option than on-premise storage solutions. Technology is being leveraged to dispel many of these concerns, with new tools being developed daily to protect patient information. What’s more, the government will likely be enacting stricter regulations and policies around digital health data to add an extra layer of oversight and protection for patients.

7. 3-D Bioprinting

This high-tech medical advancement is still in its infancy but has the potential to create drugs, prostheses, and even human tissue and organs. Recently, scientists printed human ears and successfully attached them to the skin of mice, a huge step forward in the evolution of 3D printing. Potentially even more exciting is the development in Australia, where doctors completed a successful implant of a 3-D printed vertebrae into a human patient who had been suffering from chordoma cancer. And the Kidney Project is currently developing a bioartificial kidney “as a permanent solution to end-stage renal disease.” This advancement could ensure that every eligible patient would have the option of receiving a transplant, not just those who make it to the top of the list.

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8. Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Advancements in both artificial intelligence and robotics have lead to real uses for robots in hospital settings – both as surgical assistants and delivery and transportation aids. In Sioux Falls, S.D. a robot named Xena is one of two robots the Aver McKennan hospital is employing to disinfect operating rooms and destroy super bugs. And in Australia, Medtech announced the first surgery successfully completed using ROSA, a robotic surgery system.

As physicians and researchers continue to expand their reliance on technology to enhance medical prevention, diagnostic and treatment approaches, the career options for those in health informatics and information technology are exploding. Specialized degree programs such as the Master of Science in Health Care Informatics offered by the University of San Diego are preparing IT and healthcare professionals to fill this growing need with a unique combination of coursework that integrates health care technology, leadership, and business knowledge/skills. Students in the USD program can choose from three specialized learning tracks (health informatics, health data analytics/data science, and healthcare leadership), and can also select between an online delivery format or attending classes on campus two to three evenings a week.


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