ATLANTA — March 1, 2010 — Healthcare organizations are increasingly challenged to deliver top-quality medical care, foster constant improvement and cut costs. Technology solutions ranging from electronic medical records (EMRs) to innovative multi-touch devices for visualizing medical information can help medical professionals, consumers and patients more effectively access and use the vast amounts of medical data available to them.
Six Ways IT Will Change Healthcare
New tools will count the pennies
Calls to reduce healthcare costs aren’t new. But new technology tools help providers analyze costs in detail — for example, the cost of moving a patient from one hospital department to another — and make it easier to streamline hospital procedures. Small changes can add up to big savings.
Advances in healthcare technology are the topic in Atlanta this week, where the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Annual Conference & Exhibition is taking place. The HIMSS conference brings together healthcare organizations, IT providers, nonprofits and other stakeholders committed to transforming healthcare through the effective use of information technology and management systems. Microsoft, a sponsor of HIMSS10, will be showcasing Microsoft and partner solutions designed to help healthcare providers improve quality of care.
“People feel like healthcare and the problems that everyone associates with the industry are these huge, complex issues,” says Chris Sullivan, provider industry solutions director for Health and Life Sciences at Microsoft. “In reality, one thing that’s clear is that we have the technology to solve a lot of the problems — not all, but a lot — and technology is a means to empower both consumers and providers.”
For example, Sullivan says, EMRs can be managed in secured, central repositories rather than scattered among different facilities, making it easy for consumers to update their records and those of their family members, and choose how and when to share them with trusted providers. To this end, Microsoft recently collaborated with the Office of the Surgeon General to enable users of the “My Family Health Portrait” program to integrate their information into HealthVault.
Other advances include innovative visualization tools that give doctors new capabilities in diagnosis and treatment. One example is VitruView, a Microsoft Surface-based application from InterKnowlogy that lets doctors view, manipulate and update 3-D images of a patient’s heart. Multi-touch capabilities let doctors mark blood vessels for treatment or shift the view to show patients how a procedure will be done. Other solutions are being developed for touch-screen computers, Xbox 360 and the code-named “Project Natal” interface to offer new options for analyzing and understanding complex medical information.
“People can actually see information about their condition, and doctors and patients can interact in a more natural way,” Sullivan says. “We’re excited about capabilities.”
Hospital processes and systems can also come under the microscope. Technology tools such as Microsoft Amalga help healthcare providers bring together data from disparate hospital systems for detailed analysis. Costs can be calculated — for example, the cost of moving a patient from one hospital department to another — and processes can be streamlined. Fully integrated hospital IT systems will flag potential problems, track compliance with federal and industry regulations and mandates, and help doctors and administrators make quality improvements.
Beyond the hospital, smart devices can be used to help patients manage their own health. Microsoft and the Cleveland Clinic conducted a pilot program in which patients with diabetes, hypertension or heart failure used connected devices such as glucose meters, scales and blood-pressure monitors to track their signs. With patient consent, information was uploaded to their EMRs at the clinic. Over a year’s trial, patients with diabetes and high blood pressure needed fewer doctor visits, indicating that they had better control of their conditions. Heart failure patients visited their doctors more often, indicating that patients and their doctors were catching problems quickly and taking action before they became severe.