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Healthcare IT services advancing, but organizations struggle to keep pace

March 11, 2014

Few industries have seen as much technological progress in recent years as the healthcare sector. The development and integration of electronic health records (EHRs), mobile tools and countless other resources has transformed the way hospitals and doctors' offices treat patients, and more changes loom on the horizon.

This trend is a two-edged sword. As a Government Technology report highlighted, digital devices and related IT services are poised to deliver a new level of healthcare. However, a recent survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that healthcare CEOs largely feel that their organizations are struggling to keep up with the technological changes affecting their industry.

New healthcare opportunities
Government Technology emphasized that while digital devices have transformed numerous industries in the past 10 years, the healthcare sector remained relatively unaffected. Now, this is starting to change, as healthcare providers strive to leverage mobile technology and other IT services to improve preventative efforts.

"It's not just about applying technology to medicine; it's about applying technology in the right areas," Jonathan Reichental, CIO of a healthcare technology firm, told the news source. "A flu shot doesn't cost much. The big things suck up most of the cost. Fortunately technology can have a practical impact on prevention and disease management."

For example, the news source highlighted a new asthma inhaler that utilizes acoustic detection technology and cloud services to determine whether a patient is administering the medicine properly. Another firm has developed a mobile glucose monitoring system that can send alerts to both the patient and a physician if the former's levels become dangerous.

"There's a great need to be more involved in what happens when patients are not seeing us, because a lot of health outcomes are related to patient behavior," said Shivan Mehta, director of operations at the Penn Medicine Center for Health-Care Innovation, Government Technology reported. "These technologies are finally allowing us to ask, 'How do we go beyond the traditional healthcare delivery system and make an impact when patients are not in our offices?' The proliferation of new technologies makes it a lot easier for us to connect with them. We no longer have to rely on a letter or an email."

By leveraging IT services, healthcare providers can have a far more lasting impact on patients' behavior and treatment, which can lead to better outcomes down the line. Not only does this result in healthier individuals, but it also reduces the healthcare organization's costs, as these efforts are not nearly as expensive as surgeries and other major, potentially preventable operations.

Slow to change
All of the plans and projects described above represent exciting opportunities for healthcare providers of all sizes and areas of focus. However, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of healthcare CEOs found that these leaders feel very anxious in regard to the pace of IT development.

Eighty-six percent of healthcare CEOs surveyed said that technology will have a transformative effect on their organizations within the next five years, making this the most significant global trend in their eyes. To prepare for these changes, 89 percent of respondents said they intend to improve their firms' ability to innovate, 93 percent will change their technology investments and 95 percent are looking for better ways to utilize and manage Big Data.

However, only between one-fourth and one-third of those surveyed indicated that they have made much or any progress in each of these areas thus far.

More significantly, 57 percent of healthcare CEOs revealed that they are worried about the speed of technological development.

This suggests that healthcare organizations themselves will need to undergo significant evolution in the near future if they are to leverage new IT services and technology to deliver the highest quality care to their patients. Those firms that struggle in this capacity may fall by the wayside, as Preetha Reddy, managing director of Apollo Hospitals, noted.

"I think in the next 20 to 25 years, we will see consistent growth in the sector," said Reddy. "Those who are able to really deliver high-quality clinical outcomes and superior service will prosper because consumers are turning discerning."

Utilizing new technologies to meet evolving patient expectations is quickly becoming a necessity for the healthcare sector.

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