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April 21, 2014
By TEKsystems

The healthcare industry has traditionally been more resistant to technological change than many other sectors. Yet progress continues, and is likely to accelerate in the near future.

Among the many changes on the horizon, one of the most notable is the increasing accumulation and utilization of robust, comprehensive patient data. Technologies such as cloud computing, mobile solutions and advanced natural language understanding, combined with the improving interoperability of the healthcare industry as a whole, will enable care providers to discover more about their patients and provide more targeted treatments than ever before.

One of the most promising developments in this area is the evolution of Clinical Language Understanding. As Joseph Petro, SVP of healthcare research and development for Nuance, recently highlighted for Wired, CLU is essentially an offshoot of NLU, one specifically designed for the healthcare industry. NLU, Petro explained, is growing in popularity as more businesses include the technology in their mobile devices, computers, apps and more. NLU enables systems to understand context and make connections between documents and data. This will lead to nearly predictive performance. Before too long, such capabilities will seem commonplace, the writer argued.

CLU will deliver similar performance in the medical field, Petro explained. Right now, doctors and other care providers use CLU tools to better utilize electronic health records (EHRs) and perform tasks such as computerized-provider order entry (CPOE).

Perhaps more importantly, CLU tools are integrated with cloud computing solutions. Consequently, these programs create databases filled with patient information the applications are capable of understanding to a significant degree, Petro wrote. For example, he noted that virtual assistants create a dialogue between doctors and clinical applications that improves workflows and makes better-informed decision-making possible.

"This technology wields the immense power to transform how physicians interact with EMRs and share data with colleagues and their patients, fostering real-time decision support and, some day, qualifying as a trusted advisor in the pocket of the physician," Petro highlighted. "This type of immediate feedback acts as a second set of eyes, relying on vast clinical knowledge bases to review the patient's case and assist the physician in outlining different treatment options."

As CLU-based IT services proliferate in the healthcare industry, patients will likely enjoy significantly improved outcomes.

Connectivity benefits
Industry experts Amy Cueva and Paul Kahn recently highlighted a similar trend. In an article for Healthcare IT News (excerpted from the eBook The Art of Medicine in a Digital World), the writers argued that technological advances demand a new approach to healthcare. Specifically, the unprecedented nature of today's interconnected, mobile world creates new opportunities that, as of now, the healthcare industry does not take advantage of completely.

"Patients, healthcare providers and payers are all immersed in the same continuously connected mobile world—instant messages, email, applications recording, transmitting and notifying," the writers explained. "It is up to us to re-evaluate and harness the tremendous opportunities inherent within this technology and turn them into the most efficient and well-designed tools."

The writers went on to highlight three particular technology features that can deliver this performance. They noted that technology can translate speaking, typing and biometric data into digital information that patients can easily understand. Similarly, new technologies can track a wide range of events, including X-rays, prescription orders, physical exercise and more. Lastly, the writers emphasized that technology connects, transforming all of this information into a cohesive, useful resource for patients and doctors alike.

Workers needed
Obviously, these technological advances will likely have a huge impact on the healthcare industry as a whole. However, as Cueva and Kahn emphasized, achieving such a state of affairs will prove difficult. The technology alone is not sufficient. Rather, care providers will need to invest in IT staffing to successfully deploy these tools.

"We need to use human-centered design to improve the experience of technology and drive toward better health," the writers concluded.

Without a significant focus on IT personnel, hospitals and clinics wills struggle to take full advantage of available data collection and utilization tools.

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