Health Information Systems is a discipline that connects computing and information technology and health care practices and research. Computer hardware, software and communication equipment, forming a complex network. It entails the resources, equipment and means of obtaining, storing, retrieving and analyzing information in the health sector. This involves use of programmed systems to manage health information and securely exchange it between patients, health institutions, insurers and even government agencies. This interaction will improve value, safety and effectiveness of health delivery. These health information systems will find application in multiple healthcare disciplines including nursing, public health, pharmacy, pathology and dentistry.
Increased and consistent adaptation and usage of Health Information Systems in the above named disciplines will improve the quality of healthcare, decrease healthcare costs, increase managerial efficiencies, increase access to cheap healthcare and also avert medical errors. These systems will monitor chronic diseases while outbreaks of infectious diseases will be detected and contained in time.
Health Information Systems trace their roots to the second half of the 20th century when computer usage began and started increasing. Universities in Germany, France, Netherlands and Belgium dedicated departments and training programs in health informatics during early 1960s. In the U.S and Poland, these research units started in the 1970s. Health informatics has experienced massive investments in manpower and infrastructure and continues to advance as technology advances. The United States National Bureau of Standards used digital computers for dental projects symbolizing the earliest use of computers in medicine. Other agencies were to follow suit later, and many publications would follow with a view to introducing medics to computing methods. They included 1959’s “Reasoning Foundations of Medical Diagnosis” by Lesley and Lee B. Lusted. This has resulted in a rapidly growing community of health informatics in the Americas and European Union nations.
In mid 1960s at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Computer Science Laboratory, the MUMPS programming language was developed for clinical application. MUMPS is an acronym for (Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System). The MUMPS operating system supported the specifications of this language. As recently as 2004, a version of this system was still in use, in hospitals like the U.S Veterans Affairs Hospital. This hospital’s system has an electronic medical record. It also has a graphical user interface that allows different providers to assess and update patients’ e-records at any of their branches. This underlines the relevance of integrating communication technology to modern healthcare.
With time, both information communications technology and healthcare have advanced tremendously. This can be attributed to increasing opportunities and challenges witnessed in the past, currently and certainly in the future. Medical scholars have come up with noteworthy factors that have and will continue to manipulate healthcare systems and health informatics at large. Trends and factors with the most significant clout on current health information systems include:
1. Pressure to manage healthcare costs: Need to suppress operational costs as much as possible is of top priority since most healthcare providers are profit-making institutions. This will see corporate restructuring in favor of lean and effective workforces. Increased use of health information systems will see more low-grade employees laid off as these systems take over their jobs. These measures will cut across the board and affect both managerial and medical staff that will be rendered jobless.
According to a report by Price Waterhouse Coopers' Health Research Institute (Needles in a haystack: Seeking knowledge with clinical informatics), 52% of health providers said that informatics will help reduce costs by increasing patient involvement in their own preventive care. 85% of Health insurers believed that preventable hospital visits and admissions would be reduced drastically by health informatics. This implies reduced costs for not only the health providers but also for the patients. Cost controls will undoubtedly affect all healthcare disciplines, including but not limited to, dentistry, medical research, nursing and pharmacy.
2. Increasingly complex disease handling technologies will depend on the presence of reliable and efficient health information systems. Efforts to improve treatment procedures covering all ailments increase by the day. With the emergence of new diseases and drug resistant strains of existing ones, the need for investment in research cannot be underestimated. As clinicians and medical researchers develop new tools to counter these diseases, computer technologies will come in handy. They will help carry out extensive online research on diseases and medicines, record and store the findings safely and share this knowledge with other researchers over the internet. Computer programs and simulations will help monitor costs, efficiencies and outcomes of these researches. Such programs will help predict how commercially viable the products will be. They will also establish whether similar research has ever been carried out and their success rate.
Biomedical research, pharmacy and pathology are major casualties of how treatments and handling of diseases are administered. This is because they are intimately related to either the medicine used in the treatment or to the causes and nature of the diseases.
3. Introduction of powerful electronic gadgets like personal digital assistants (PDAs) will tremendously manipulate the healthcare systems. PDAs are minute and portable electronics devices that can store and transmit information. First and foremost, these equipments have multiple uses and will be bought for other reasons like entertainment and communication.
This factor will increase their client base hence a wider acceptance and purchase by a majority of the population. If effective voice recognition and reliable wireless communication systems are integrated, access to health services will be much increased.
For instance, a PDA installed with dietary software can be used for accurate self monitoring, as opposed to paper records which are cumbersome when checking on weight. PDAs can also be used by persons with diabetes for self-care especially the elderly who live alone or have no reliable helper. Also, patients can follow digital videos displayed on PDAs to carry out routine procedures. An article from the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association “Personal Digital Assistants Used to Document Compliance of Bacterial Vaginosis Treatment” concluded that PDAs accurately documented compliance rates hence can reliably assess compliance in drug or contraceptive trials.
The use of these gadgets will affect the healthcare fields like nursing and pharmacy that are concerned with administering of drugs and taking records for each patient.
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