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Opinion: Health sector turns to technology for next chapter in patient care

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Health care has come a long way from the days of house calls and doctors with black bags.

The industry is evolving faster than ever to meet the needs of patients, making this an exciting time. It’s particularly so given the integration of technology, which has enabled health care to become more user-friendly than ever before.

We live in a world where one word often reigns supreme: convenience. Online retailers and software have enabled us to get things we want based on our preferred schedules. When one wants to purchase items at 3 a.m., they are able to do it. Such changes present both challenges and opportunities for health care organizations.

Traditionally, when someone needed to see a doctor or health care provider, they had to call an office and make an appointment. While this is still possible, now there are many ways to receive that care without ever picking up the phone.

There are things like virtual visits, which allow patients to be seen right from the comfort of their own homes. Technology has advanced to the point where cameras and phones make it possible for patients to be seen – in ways better than the naked eye is able to do – without ever being in the same room with a practitioner.
 
The bar for receiving this type of care is very low: All that is required is a mobile device. That fact eases access for individuals with busy schedules or other life factors – such as transportation or family concerns – that might hinder someone from leaving work or home to seek care in person. In addition to such care needs as infections, strep throat, cold and flu, technology also brings other types of care, such as occupational medicine, to areas of the region so remote that a provider would not be able to physically be there full time.

Additionally, the internet has optimized the way other encounters are scheduled. Programs allow patients to schedule appointments online, allowing them to book appointments exactly when they want, reducing wait times at offices and giving the chance to be seen when fits best with their schedule. Such options were merely a dream a few years ago.

In addition to convenience, another concept that health care organizations are optimizing through technology is increased access to information. An obvious example of this is through wearable fitness devices, which immediately give incredible amounts of data with the touch of a button. People are able to live healthier lives simply because they have information at their hands – literally – that they’ve never had in such a convenient and accessible way.

Health care information is very accessible in other ways, too, such as through electronic medical health records. Being able to tie together everything from patients’ visits throughout a health system together is amazing: When all information is available in one place, it allows for an enhanced level of patient care and fosters greater communication between providers across a system.

Even just a few years ago, this wasn’t possible – but thanks to advances in technology, it’s become the norm.

That development has been taken a step further, however, as we see those health records becoming even more accessible for patients. Via systems compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, health care institutions across the country are working to optimize patients’ access to their records, whether through an app on a smartphone or an online portal. Others are utilizing programs that allow patients to instantly see what their physician recorded about recent visits.

In addition to advancing care, technology also allows health organizations to fill gaps left by a nationwide shortage in the workforce. Being able to work from home – as some providers do when seeing patients through telemedicine – is an incentive.

However, despite the many changes in the industry, the basic framework behind health care is exactly the same as it always has been: patient care. Fundamentally, it’s all about helping patients be the healthiest – and have the best experience – possible.

Scott Rogers is the system director of performance integration and innovation at CoxHealth. He can be reached at scott.rogers@coxhealth.com.

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