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The healthcare sector is likely to see significant changes in the coming years, particularly in the realm of IT services. By developing new strategies to take advantage of these technological trends, healthcare providers will have the opportunity to optimize both the quality of their services and their overall efficiency.
Here are four of the most noteworthy IT trends that healthcare providers should focus on in 2014.
1. Electronic health records
EHRs are among the most obvious and important new technologies to have entered the healthcare arena recently. But while EHRs have been around for a few years now, the healthcare sector as a whole is still adjusting to account for this technology, as Forbes recently highlighted.
"The data in an EHR provides an opportunity for us and doctors to have an indication of the quality of care they provide," said John Lynn, founder of blog network Healthcare Scene, the news source reported. "We're certainly not there on this, but I expect EHR will become an amazing platform for change in healthcare."
Forbes further noted that healthcare providers must devote particular attention to improving EHR security. Many hospitals and doctors' offices currently lack robust, reliable policies and strategies for ensuring that these sensitive digital resources remain just as secure as paper-based records.
This is particularly important because the 2009 HITECH Act created major incentives and penalties for EHR adoption rates. As these deadlines approach, healthcare providers must be careful not to overlook security concerns.
2. Wearable tech
Another major trend that will affect the healthcare sector in the coming years is the rise of wearable technology. Numerous companies are now researching and producing clothes that feature advanced technology capable of tracking a huge range of biometric data, with more sophisticated solutions on the horizon.
"When you think about it, clothing is the original wearable," noted Stephanie Marceau, co-founder and CEO of OMSignal, Healthcare Global reported. " We're going to see technology integrated directly into our clothing—first through sensors, but eventually it will be weaved into the fibers."
As Forbes noted, healthcare providers are increasingly leveraging these solutions in order to gain a more robust, accurate understanding of patients' health. Additionally, the news source reported that surgeons are exploring the potential of Google Glass and similar tools to record their actions, which can then be used as teaching aids.
Forbes pointed out that as with EHR solutions, healthcare providers must take pains to ensure that data collected via wearable technology remains secure.
"Implementing any kind of program involving wearable sensors requires careful evaluation by security, IT and legal staff," the news source concluded. "Indeed, the complexity of the issues may warrant outside counsel."
3. Mobile solutions
Mobile is another technology with major implications for the healthcare sector. Speaking to Forbes, HIT Consultant founder Fred Pennic asserted that mobile solutions can help patients to manage their own health while improving outcomes and cost efficiency for healthcare providers.
Notably, mobile technology makes it possible for hospitals, doctors' offices and clinics to embrace telemedicine, as Healthcare Global reported. By leveraging these solutions, care providers can essentially conduct instantaneous house calls. This reduces or eliminates wait times and greatly expands access to health advice, particularly for patients living in rural areas. And because they do not need to visit healthcare centers as frequently, patients can avoid exposure to others' illnesses.
4. Health-focused apps
Finally, healthcare providers will need to take into account the growing prominence of health-focused apps, which Healthcare Global identified as part of the "augmented nutrition" trend. These apps help consumers to track their own health-related behaviors, such as how many calories they consume on a daily basis.
By taking advantage of this trend, healthcare providers can further enhance their knowledge of patients' health and lifestyles, which can contribute to more accurate diagnoses and guidance. However, achieving this level of performance will require healthcare providers to dedicate significant time and resources to improving the integration and expansiveness of their IT services and systems.