Information Technology Impact on the Healthcare Industry

Facilitating the flow of information within a healthcare ‎organization is becoming a quality differentiator among ‎healthcare providers competing in the GCC region.‎

Dubai, UAE, 05 May 2008 – Information Technology’s role in providing high quality healthcare is rapidly growing, say consultants at Booz & Company.

“As Information Technology increasingly penetrates the healthcare industry, physicians and patients are experiencing the benefits of on-demand access to medical information where, when and how it is needed.”, stated Ramez Shehadi, Booz & Company Principal leading the IT Strategy Practice in the Middle East. “Facilitating the flow of information within a healthcare organization is becoming a quality differentiator among healthcare providers competing in the GCC region.”

Healthcare has traditionally seen lower levels of investment in IT than other service industries. This has resulted in a number of problems for healthcare providers, with systems in desperate need of modernization to overcome the challenges that have arisen over the years - disparate mix of software systems that struggle to share information, infrastructure that hinders rather than helps expansion or growth, and programs that are not optimally aligned with clinical workflows.

“As expectations for improved healthcare continue to evolve, older IT systems will increasingly struggle to deliver a truly integrated flow of information having been designed traditionally around provider needs, rather than around a patient’s needs…” said Shehadi, “… and as such, both patients and medical staff increasingly experience healthcare technology that is below expectation.”

Patient-Centric IT

Recent advances in IT are enabling providers to improve the quality of patient care. Today’s healthcare IT is much more than traditional isolated computers and unfriendly applications. Increasingly, patient care is exploiting the new tools and information that systems can provide, while maintaining a patient-centric approach to their use. Software that supports the core medical processes, hardware that allows easy access to information at the point of care, and standards that make the integration of different systems easier than ever before are all key features of the new healthcare IT systems.

“With increased investment in modern IT systems as well as new facilities, organizations are improving healthcare for patients, and raising it to a world-class standard,” commented Richard Shediac, Booz & Company Partner leading the Healthcare Practice in the Middle East. Fundamental to the success of investments in IT, however, is ensuring a holistic approach to the technology, which means understanding the strategic goals of the organization and understanding how IT, from technological and organizational perspectives, can help to achieve them.

IT Driven By Care

The driving force behind the revolution in healthcare IT is the desire for providers to offer the best possible standard of care to each patient. This has driven the emergence, and growing sophistication of the Electronic Medical Record, (EMR). This digital record can hold the full details of an individual’s medical history, which ultimately helps to direct diagnostic and therapeutic decisions when a patient enters the healthcare system.

“Healthcare providers will only realize the benefits of the EMR once the necessary infrastructure for distributing the information within an integrated healthcare network is established,” said Shehadi. This highlights the critical connection that organizations must establish between information and information access: while the EMR on its own is a powerful tool, its combination with other networked applications ensures availability of the appropriate information; where and when needed, at the point of care.

Setting Standards

In this ever-evolving technology landscape, setting IT standards are a key factor in making best use of all the new software and hardware available to healthcare providers. Proper standards define the rules of engagement between systems – for example, how medical information should be stored and communicated in the network. As these standards are defined, the benefits of their proper use are becoming increasingly tangible.

One impact is of fundamental importance to integrated healthcare networks – the ability to scale IT across facilities. “With common standards governing systems design, organizations are increasingly able to grow their IT capacity and functionality, at the same rate that their clinical business strategies demand,” said Shediac. This link between IT and business strategies ensures that investment decisions taken at the IT level serve the best interests of the key stakeholders; in this case medical staff and patients.

IT – a Pillar of Healthcare Organizations

Together with a growing recognition of the importance of IT, the drive towards patient-centric services is a central theme in healthcare organizations across the region. Using software that provides simple access to information at the point of care, and hardware that enables communication of data across facilities and mobilizes the access points, facilitates provision of improved patient care by healthcare providers. For physicians, these developments mean their decisions are better informed; for patients, they provide more personalized care and more streamlined experiences, and for healthcare organizations as a whole, they mean more efficient use of IT and greater potential for future improvement.

“This focus on healthcare IT is brought to life in the plans of emerging healthcare providers in the UAE. As competition grows for future market share, providers are keen to draw attention to the integration of their clinical services – behind which are sophisticated IT systems that help interlace different facilities’ patient offerings into a fabric of medical information across a continuum of care”, commented Shehadi. Such IT strategies place particular importance on ensuring that technology provides the information and tools needed by physicians, nurses and other staff at the point of care to support a high quality service for the patient and an efficient use of the organization’s resources.

Conclusion

While medical staff and patients have always been and will continue to be at the heart of healthcare, the value of the use of IT in a patient-centric approach to care is starting to reveal itself and for everyone concerned the improvements are there to see. With its increasing adoption, healthcare IT is likely to contribute significantly to the overall level of care that patients in the region benefit from.