The healthcare industry has been slow to adopt certain facets of information technology (IT) that the rest of the professional world was eager to embrace. The reasons for the reluctance to jump into IT are myriad, but most concerns boil down to the difficulties in communicating information accurately and securely. There is little that is more precious to a person than his or her health information, which is why secure, reliable information exchange is so critical. Fortunately, advances in transmitting secure information mean that health professionals are now adopting IT in their practices at record speed. Here is a look at how IT is gaining importance in healthcare.

Access

IT and HealthcareAccessing a physician or healthcare provider can be difficult, if not impossible, for some individuals. The advent of online consultations helps to ease the burden of overworked physicians while giving patients the kind of quick access to services that they desire. For patients, online consultations give them the ability to run their symptoms past a trained professional before investing time, energy, and money into visiting their own provider in person. In many cases, such as flu, acne, tick bites, and so forth, the patient can receive treatment and avoid a trip to the doctor altogether. For doctors, online consultation frees up their time, allowing them to deal with the illness that requires a personal touch and physical presence. The benefit is that everyone gets better, more thorough care at a faster pace and with less hassle.

Access is also being improved through cost containment. The outsourcing of healthcare services, such as pathology and radiology, is only possible now thanks to reliable, fast information networks. The web has changed the face of healthcare, making it possible for physicians and healthcare providers thousands of miles away to offer their services and expertise. The net result of outsourcing has been lower costs without any degradation in quality or accuracy. It only follows that by keeping the costs of healthcare contained, more people will be able to access services, particularly health maintenance services. Healthcare is slowly becoming a competitive market, where patients can cross-shop services to compare quality and cost.

Collective Wisdom

The idea that two heads are better than one has been a driving force behind knowledge bases like Wikipedia, WebMD, and others that deal in information. In healthcare, collective wisdom means that both doctors and patients have access to knowledge of disease and treatment from across the planet.

Collective wisdom can be thought of as the embodiment of all human knowledge about a particular subject. In the case of healthcare, collective wisdom comes in the form of databases and knowledge banks about the signs and symptoms of the disease as well as the tests that lead to diagnosis and the treatments that can be employed to improve health.

For patients, collective wisdom means being better informed and more savvy about personal health issues. It gives patients more control over their own care and allows them to investigate their own symptoms and compare their experiences to those of others. Through this process of investigation and comparison, patients are able to whittle down the broad range of illnesses that may be affecting them, home in on what symptoms are most important, and ultimately become more active participants in their own care.

For providers, collective wisdom in IT provides a means of rapidly perusing the vast and deep collection of knowledge that concerns human health. No one can know it all, but knowing how to interrogate databases, perform optimal keyword searches, and so forth are what set today’s stellar physicians apart from their average counterparts. The practice of medicine, thanks to information technology, is rapidly becoming more about assimilating large amounts of information from patients and IT resources than it is about memorizing a plethora of facts in order to generate a differential diagnosis. IT is making it possible for physicians to better serve their patients by allowing them to retain a sort of peripheral brain that they can easily search for information and clues as to what ails their patients and how to best treat those ailments.

The combination of improved patient knowledge of their own conditions and physician access to cutting-edge research and evidence-based practices means that quality in health care is improving. It also means that outcomes are improving because patients are more compliant with treatment and actively seek out alternatives that suit their needs. Ultimately, the sharing of collective wisdom through the Internet has resulted in better collaboration between physicians and the patients they care for.

The Bottom Line

IT is reducing paperwork, improving safety, and reducing the incidence of unnecessary tests and procedures. More than that, however, IT is making healthcare a faster, more accurate, more consumer-friendly industry. Doctors and patients alike are benefiting from the collective intelligence that IT puts at the fingertips of providers. Thanks to IT, healthcare has become more efficient while simultaneously making gains in accuracy and patient service. It’s a winning situation no matter how you look at it.

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