The Ups and Downs of Health IT

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Doctor looking at a computer screenAs with all technology, health IT has undergone massive transformation in the past 25 years. In the last decade, spurred in part by incentives in the Affordable Care Act, there has been a sea change in the way medical records are created, stored, protected, and accessed. While health IT has come a long way in achieving its early promise, there are still challenges ahead. Here’s a look at the ups and downs of health IT evolution over the past two and a half decades.

Electronic Health Records

On the upside, the transition from paper to digital health records has brought a new level of collaboration and continuity of care to the healthcare industry. EHRs allow clinicians to access patient information on an anytime-anywhere basis, fostering better decision making. In addition, EHRs promote instantaneous sharing of health information among members of a patient’s care team, enabling consultation, collaboration, and better health outcomes.

On the downside, however, there are still many providers who have yet to adopt even the simplest digital health record system. There are also technology barriers to data integration across proprietary systems and networks. One of the biggest HIT challenges of the next five years will be increasing access across all sections of the care spectrum.

Enhanced Security and Privacy

Following the passage of HIPAA, the health IT industry approached data security and privacy concerns with laser-like focus. Software developers created multiple new layers to ensure privacy as records went digital. This led to the development of industry-wide protocols and best practices that have done much to ensure patients’ rights to privacy in their health information.

On the down side, however, no system is fool-proof, and digital health records have increased the risk of data theft from hacking. In the past two years alone, there have been multiple high-profile security breaches and data theft from prominent healthcare institutions including Howard University Hospital, the Utah Department of Health, and the government’s own TRICARE insurance system. Privacy and security remain ongoing challenges in the HIT industry.

Improved Analytics

The move to digital recordkeeping has allowed an unprecedented level of data collection that enables healthcare providers and institutions to improve care delivery. Improved data collection allows for measuring actual costs of care, trends in population health, financial analysis, patient behavior, and even clinical effectiveness. The analytic tools available in today’s HIT platforms are a decisive advantage for medical professionals.

On the downside, until the HIT industry adopts a standard for interoperability, some of the best opportunities for large scale data collection will be missed. In addition, data mining carries a risk for privacy and ethics violations; health IT will need to partner with other healthcare stakeholders to develop appropriate policies for collecting and managing large volumes of patient data.

There’s no doubt that the last 25 years have had a significant impact on health IT policies and procedures. As the industry moves to enact the HIT regulations included in the PPACA, the country can expect even more health IT innovation and evolution.

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