Critical Factors in Implementing an IT System in Health Facilities
The current times present numerous challenges when it comes to healthcare provision. There is a need to develop an efficient system that helps in handling patients’ information, and, at the same time, does not compromise privacy. Various healthcare providers adopt Information Technology (IT) as one of the ways to improve healthcare provision in the United States. Various Acts are also in place in order to make this campaign effective in all parts of the country. However, all healthcare providers must be fully aware of certain critical factors that help to elaborate efficient systems which comply with the law in place.
The government encourages all healthcare organizations to implement the law that requires employing electronic medical records for all patients. A number of organizations have complied with the law so far; however, numerous other organizations are reluctant to implement the same within their systems. The first reason given for reluctance is the fact that the use of the medical electronic systems is quite complicated. The survey conducted by the CompTIA indicates that more than a half of practitioners wish to have systems that are a lot easier to use (Weiner, Yeh & Blumenthal, 2013). It is obvious that most of the medical personnel see the electronic medical system as a complicated thing that consumes their limited time. The cost of such systems is another impediment, especially for the solo practitioners who may not have the financial capacity. Such solo practitioners may not necessarily be unable to use the electronic systems; the source of their reluctance is generated by either the high cost of the system or the doubts that the investment will be repaid in the end. Furthermore, it should be noted that the incentives that the federal government uses to facilitate the implementation of the law and make various healthcare providers adopt the electronic medical system are apparently not enough; however, the reluctance still lays in the disproportion between the long-term benefit and the costs needed to adopt the system.
Interoperability is another serious reason that medical practitioners mention to justify the lack of compliance. Most of the electronic medical systems are not designed to facilitate the process of communication between organizations due to the fact that each vendor has a different product to offer to its clients. Therefore, the lack of common compatibility among the different systems is a serious challenge that makes other practitioners reluctant in adopting electronic medical records. Privacy is also a concern for the health care organizations that have not put electronic medical records in place. They challenge the argument that all of the digital records are encrypted to protect them from unauthorized access by noting carelessness (Weiner, Yeh & Blumenthal, 2013). People with an authorized access to the electronic medical system may get careless with the unencrypted data by leaving their laptops unattended at times, which may result in identity theft. On the other hand, the paperwork may be mishandled at the stage of scanning and digitization, which may as well expose private medical records of patients for unauthorized access. For the reasons above, some health care organizations seem reluctant to adopt the electronic medical systems.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is one of the Acts that exert huge influence upon the provision of healthcare within the country. Handling of the patient’s medical information is the major factor that this Act helps to streamline. On the other hand, it is important to note that the impact of this Act upon the provision of healthcare is both negative and positive when it comes to handling of patient’s medical records. Based on this Act, a patient must give a signed consent for practitioners to share personal medical records, either with their colleagues within a medical facility or with the representatives of other healthcare providers (Califf & Muhlbaier, 2003).
HIPAA has led to an increase of the level of compliance in a great number of health organizations, which helps them keep up with the ever-changing requirements and challenges of the healthcare provision. Most importantly, the use of IT, which makes it possible to record and avail records electronically, is one of the key requirements under the aforementioned Act. The privacy rule has also enabled health organizations to come up with secure physical and electronic systems in order to protect the private medical information from unauthorized access. In addition, HIPAA has made it easy to share medical information with other practitioners instantly because of the use of electronic data, whenever patients give consent. On the other hand, implementation of this Act has made it more difficult to conduct medical research work as compared to the past. The point is that researchers are not allowed to share patients’ past medical charts and data in order to study the trend, especially without the authority from the patients, which is something that has led to an increase in the cost of medical researches. Privacy restrictions have made it difficult to use patient’s medical records towards better healthcare because getting information takes a long time and comes with higher cost (Weiner, Yeh & Blumenthal, 2013).
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was signed into law in 2009 by President Barack Obama in order to encourage all healthcare organizations to adopt health information technology in all operations. It is important to look at the main advantages and disadvantages in order to gauge its impact upon the society. Reduction of the cost by healthcare institutions is one of the advantages on record. According to Califf and Muhlbaier (2003), implementing HITECH helps to reduce the number of employees who may be required to handle paperwork within an organization. An organization is likely to reduce staffing by 25% after implementing HITECH. At the same time, the research indicates a 48% reduction in patients’ mortality when it comes to healthcare organizations that adopt the use of technology in their operations (Blumenthal & Tavenner, 2010). In addition, electronic system helps to make medical decisions on certain cases faster. This means that support staff spends less time in making analysis of the data, which reduces the costs.
On the other hand, implementation of HITECH has led to certain disadvantages. For instance, a study conducted by Weiner, Yeh and Blumenthal (2013) shows that, unlike the paperwork, electronic medical records are likely to hamper the flow of information during ward rounds, which makes it very difficult to provide emergency care. At the same time, it must be noted that there is likely to be certain errors when the system is not properly configured, which may result in misdiagnosis and incorrect prescription.
However, there is one method that the medical staff can use to mitigate the lack of flow of information during ward rounds. This method requires ensuring an efficient system that provides real time display in all wards. In the paperwork system, files accompanies patients from one point to another, which is something that can be changed by ensuring that each ward has a computer or gadget that displays the flow of information in real time. This will eliminate the need to wait for information from one ward to another, especially in emergency cases.
Health organizations have certain workflow processes that define their daily operations. Each organization has a given pattern that enables it to accomplish tasks and provide service to the patients. Many of these activities revolve around scheduling appointments with patients, checking for past records and many more. One fundamental step towards the efficiency is the reduction of waste within a system. According to Spetz and Keane (2009), almost 40% of the healthcare organizations office seems redundant, which results in wastages. Therefore, recognizing and eliminating waste is an important step towards improving workflow within healthcare organizations. This will require the automation of services to make a follow-up easy with the help of a system that has a continuous flow rather than batching the process and conducting tasks in parallel to save time. Technology facilitates tracking of patients and making necessary interactions towards better healthcare provision. Manual interaction makes the staff waste a lot of precious time spent in attempts to retrieve and access important patients’ data.
Federal government has put efforts to ensure that healthcare organizations develop systems which uphold higher standards when it comes to privacy, safety and confidentiality of patients’ information. Previously, before the advent of electronic medical systems it was easier for medical practitioners and researchers to acquire and share information, without consent from the patients. Such information was acquired by certain entities like insurance institutions or employers without prior knowledge of the patients. However, the enactment and passing of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) into law requires consent of patients before sharing private electronic medical information. In order to make information safe, all healthcare providers must digitize their records and have proper backup. Moreover, the federal government has enacted The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in order to encourage all healthcare organizations to adopt IT in their operations. The Act provides certain incentives to all organizations that abide by it and enumerates punishment for the organizations that do not comply with the Act (Blumenthal & Tavenner, 2010).
Currently, technology has become an inalienable part of life that makes unauthorized access to information easier in case proper security measures are not taken. Nevertheless, healthcare organizations have no option but to keep up with the technological trend and adopt electronic medical systems. Fundamental advantages of adopting IT systems by healthcare organizations lie in the efficiency and cost reduction they bring. For instance, an organization is likely to cut costs on employees because data entries do not require a lot of people to handle information flow. Thus, unlike with the paperwork that is cumbersome and prone to errors, an electronic medical system is a more reliable and faster way to handle information on patients. In addition, electronic medical systems store patients’ medical history in one data bank with proper backup, which in turn makes it easier for practitioners to take decisions and plan treatment faster. Private information can be shared only with the consent of a patient, which makes it safe. Paperwork is prone to damages and retrieval may take a longer time. At the same time, a theft or outbreak of fire is likely to result in the loss of the entire information in the files. Healthcare organizations can use the electronic medical system to make prescriptions based on accurate data and order medical supplies without errors associated with paper orders (Spetz & Keane, 2009).
In the next two decades, handling of information within the framework of healthcare provision will be digitized, which in turn will make it difficult for health organizations to operate without IT systems. This means that the government is not going to allow practitioners, whether solo ones or large organizations, providing healthcare without a proper HITECH. There is likely to be a system in place that is uniform across all institutions to ease the ability of sharing information for faster decision-making. There is a need for service providers to embrace the use of IT system in order to keep up with the changing trends. Those who are reluctant to adopt electronic systems will eventually quit the healthcare provision and venture into other sectors of the economy.
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