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System integration to improve healthcare data access

March 31, 2014

The digitization of healthcare records and related IT services has already had a tremendous impact on the industry, and on the the overall quality of healthcare around the world. Notably, among the most important effects of this trend is the increasing accessibility of healthcare data.

Writing for The Guardian, Richard Corbridge, chief information officer of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, recently asserted that progress on this front will likely continue well into the future. As system integration increases and evolves, improved data availability will enable greater care decisions for healthcare providers of all kinds, particularly in regard to studies and drug trials.

Healthcare in twenty years
According to Corbridge, the movement toward more integrated healthcare systems is a global endeavor. Progress in this effort is relatively slow and steady, but also inevitable and certain to have a number of major, positive impacts.

Corbridge offered a number of projections for the state of healthcare system integration within 20 years. For example, he wrote that his organization expects there to be a global standard for information sharing and collaborative patient recruitment efforts.

"If a scientist in Boston in the U.S. needs a participant with a rare disease and a set of criteria that are complex, the scientist can place that call for participants within the information system, asking for a patient globally to come forward to take part in the clinical trial," Corbridge suggested.

Additionally, Corbridge indicated that ubiquitous use of electronic health records will make it easier for clinicians, doctors and scientists to collect and monitor patient data. This will allow healthcare professionals to gain a much better understanding of the effect that trial drugs and other treatments have on individuals.

Patients will also directly benefit from this more-connected, more-expansive healthcare IT network. The writer emphasized that the advancement of mobile technology makes it possible for individuals to participate in healthcare trials and studies without even leaving their own homes. If research becomes less intrusive, more people will likely take part in these endeavors, opening up new healthcare opportunities. Furthermore, greater integration of IT services and systems will vastly speed up the drug trial and study process, making new treatment options available to the general public much faster than is currently possible.

"All in all, the potential impact of the modern information system on health and fitness is staggering," Corbridge concluded.

Obstacles remain
Yet for all of the benefits Corbridge highlighted, there are numerous obstacles that healthcare providers must overcome to achieve a truly integrated, border-spanning data network. As Tech Page One contributor Ann Braley Smith recently emphasized, one of the most serious of these challenges is healthcare providers' resistance to IT modernization.

Smith asserted that IT modernization is essential if the healthcare sector is to move toward the future which, much like Corbridge, she described as "a world of shared provider knowledge, standardized, consolidated patient data and efficiency across the board." But healthcare providers are often slow to update their IT operations.

The most commonly cited reason for such resistance, Smith noted, is the simple fact that most users prefer the convenience of existing systems over the potential benefits of new ones. This inclination to put off system-wide updates is a powerful force, and one which healthcare institutions must overcome in order to develop more unified, effective information-sharing systems.

Other key obstacles, according to Smith, include the ongoing changes to compliance standards and the difficulty of managing expensive, complex IT systems.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can help healthcare providers to overcome these issues. Among the most important of these is IT training.

"That's why the proper training of staff can make or break a modernization project," Smith wrote. "Chances are, once employees at all levels and jobs see first-hand the benefits and efficiencies of new technology, they won't miss the old system at all."

By investing in IT training along with modernization efforts, healthcare providers can take a major step toward the future of improved data access and patient outcomes described by Corbridge.

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