Millennia have passed since the practice of medicine began, and technology has been an integral part of it throughout recorded history. For many practitioners, the current proliferation of medical technology may feel unprecedented. To some extent, it is. Information technology progresses exponentially as every year surpasses the prior in both the quantity and the quality of IT innovations. Fundamental human endeavors knowledge acquisition, communication, entertainment consumption, even basic cognition have been radically altered, and no facet of our society is exempt. Like every other industry, the established healthcare system must adapt in order to stay viable.
Of course, tools perform only as well as those who use them, and the profusion and complexity of new medical technology demands expert management. Healthcare managers, already tasked with overseeing the integration of information technology into their industry, must also be familiar with emergent technologies and be ready for their impact. The federal electronic medical records (EMR) mandate, slated for enforcement in January 2014, underscores the dramatic changes IT has produced and renders adaptation even more urgent. The need for tech-savvy healthcare management, informed by changes in health communication and proficient in health information technology, is clear.
In fact, EMR and their more comprehensive version, electronic health records (EHR) are among many developments in health IT and communication. Wireless technologies, most often credited with revolutionizing the media and entertainment industries, create profound possibilities for the practice of healthcare as well. The most prominent development thus far is the wide array of fitness and nutrition apps, which can do things like monitor caloric intake, track daily activity, plan nutritious meals and otherwise promote health and wellness. Users also have the option to optimize apps with small wireless sensors that transmit vital sign data, such as pulse rate, to their devices.
Wireless sensors can enhance diagnostic and surgical treatment equally well, enabling continuous, accurate and non-invasive patient monitoring. Even the finger-stick, endured by millions of diabetics on a daily basis, may eventually become obsolete. Continuous glucose monitoring, during which an abdominal sensor retrieves blood-glucose values from the patient’s abdomen on a regular basis, has already gained traction as a viable alternative.
The meaning behind the healthcare industry’s primary mandate is therefore not to design innovative treatment options and technologies, but to incorporate them fully. Likewise, healthcare management, already an interdisciplinary endeavor, is most effective when complemented by a working knowledge of health IT and communication. Health consumers, empowered by more access to information than ever before, expect high-quality care, streamlined communication and transparent diagnostic and treatment procedures. Facilities that deliver have the potential to thrive.
Technology benefits practitioners, too. The efficient exchange of electronic medical data improves diagnostic accuracy and eliminates the need for lengthy, provider-specific patient histories written by hand. Physicians and other healthcare providers can achieve more holistic treatment plans that target the individual, instead of just his or her symptoms. And the emerging impact on public health and health literacy, even in remote areas and among disenfranchised populations, is significant.
Opportunities therefore abound for IT and healthcare management professionals to advance their careers with formal education in the complementary subject area. Demand is high for employees who can master new technologies as they emerge and exploit every innovation to its full potential, and executive-level positions in the field are quite well-compensated. The technology will surely continue to evolve and change, but the value of health IT and communication, at least, should endure.