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Technology, always critical in the healthcare sector, is growing in importance. Care providers rely on new tools, techniques and IT services in virtually every capacity, regularly investing in and deploying these solutions. However, as InformationWeek contributor Richard Roth recently highlighted, it is no longer sufficient for organizations to adapt quickly to new trends. In order to stay ahead in the healthcare sector, firms need to actively innovate.
According to Roth, the healthcare industry today barely resembles the healthcare industry of five years ago. Several key factors drove this tremendous evolution, most notably the passage of major policy reforms, the advent of new technologies and better-informed patients. The writer noted that use of healthcare IT services and solutions doubled last year, and a recent Intel study found that 75 percent of patients want technology to play a greater role in their healthcare experiences.
Among the specific technological changes affecting the healthcare sector, Roth cited the rise of mobile devices, telemedicine, monitoring tools and Big Data-based efforts as among the most significant.
These and other developments have transformed the expectations and requirements for many healthcare providers. Specifically, firms will need to embrace creativity to keep pace.
"As these forces continue to reshape the possibilities of both medicine and healthcare delivery, 2014 will see exponential innovation," Roth wrote. "It is a prime environment for health systems, care providers and entrepreneurs to either embrace and promote change together or be left behind."
Rather than striving to develop new technologies outright, Roth emphasized the need for healthcare providers to craft innovative policies that enable them to take advantage of new capabilities and standards. Critically, the writer argued that this type of innovation will soon become a necessity, rather than conveying competitive advantage.
"Embracing innovative approaches and entrepreneurial endeavors that improve care delivery, system infrastructure, and patient engagement in the near-term are now business strategies critical to the long-term success and viability of healthcare organizations. Today's decisions will determine which healthcare companies and systems will thrive tomorrow," Roth wrote.
Innovate to take advantage
Of all the healthcare-related technological changes on the horizon, perhaps none will prove as significant as wearable sensor tools. Numerous businesses are now in the process of developing clothes, apps and related solutions that can track the wearer's vital signs, nutritional habits, exercise habits and more.
For these offerings to prove beneficial, though, healthcare providers must implement the necessary, corresponding IT services and policies.
Electronic health records (EHRs) are a key example. The HITECH Act and other legislation mandated that healthcare providers take steps to embrace these digital records. Yet this alone is not sufficient if providers hope to take full advantage of the potential offered by wearable technology. To this end, organizations must ensure their EHR solutions can integrate with relevant wearable solutions so that patient data is added to individuals' EHRs in real-time. Creative IT strategies and policies may prove essential in this capacity.
Similarly, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals must have the means and knowledge to access patients' data, including information produced by wearable technology, from anywhere and in real-time. This will enable care providers to offer emergency assistance if necessary, and make these professionals more readily available for consultations. Considering the fact that no standards currently exist for achieving this goal, healthcare providers must work with IT services firms to make this data accessible via doctors' mobile devices. Furthermore, IT training may be necessary to help these care providers to master the technology at their disposal.