Improving Health Outcomes with Health Information Technology
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous turmoil and strain worldwide, but it has had one unexpected opportunity: It supercharged the adoption of health information technology for both providers and consumers in the U.S., and it has opened a new frontier for digital health technology whose full extent has not yet been realized.
The potential of health information technology has long been obvious to industry insiders. Technology makes it easier to create, store, recall, and share records. The rise of smartphones and virtual care, meanwhile, has made it possible for people to meet with a doctor, nurse, or specialist remotely. One of the barriers to increased adoption of health information technology has been in transitioning health providers to offer digital healthcare to consumers, and then getting consumers to choose those digital options.
Since the start of 2020, however, when people were simultaneously extremely focused on healthcare and unable to visit in person as easily, telehealth use surged. A report examining telehealth insurance claims show they increased almost 8,000% from February to April 2020, and have since stabilized at 38 times pre-pandemic levels. During those early months, among consumers who started using digital healthcare tools for the first time, 75% said they would continue to do so after the pandemic ended.
Using Health Information Technology to Improve the Consumer Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have created a unique moment in time that was especially conducive to shifting to digital health technology, and once the door was opened, people found they liked the convenience and service it offered. Some of the top benefits include:
- Ease and flexibility: For healthcare consumers, the ability to get an appointment on short notice and/or squeeze it into a narrow window is invaluable. Online scheduling and telehealth visits make every step of healthcare easier – no waiting on a phone to schedule an appointment, no sitting in a lobby waiting for an appointment, and no travel time. It even has the benefit of being kinder to the environment since it requires less driving.
- Accessibility: With digital healthcare, it’s possible to engage with medical experts who may be geographically remote. For many people with disabilities or who experience barriers to transportation, virtual healthcare provides better access to their care providers. And there’s also greater accessibility of medical records, test results, and visit summaries — for consumers and providers. Today, 90% of office-based physicians use an electronic health records system. And since each person’s needs are different, perhaps requiring specialists in diverse fields, health information technology makes it easier for each person to connect with a team that may include doctors, pharmacists, therapists, and social support providers.
- Safety: During the pandemic, digital healthcare helped reduce the spread of disease by allowing people to take care of routine health matters remotely, reducing exposure to other potentially infectious people and helping break the chain of transmission. Even as the pandemic recedes, for immunocompromised individuals, the ability to minimize trips is very important.
- Equity: One of the biggest challenges in healthcare is health equity – providing each person what they need to achieve positive health outcomes. Data and technology can help provide predictive, proactive, personalized care and experiences that improve outcomes, lower costs, and serve people more equitably. Data-driven insights illuminate gaps in care and health inequities. However, currently not everyone can access digital tools, and this is an area that needs continued focus to enable the benefit for all.
- Affordability: One of the benefits of increased use of digital health technology is that it can help make healthcare more affordable for those who do have access to digital tools. Virtual visits can provide flexibility and lower copays for those who have barriers to accessing in-person care.
Behind the scenes, health information technology is also revolutionizing how we understand health and healthcare across a population. Already, health providers are aggregating anonymous data from millions of patients and using artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches to seek out unexpected links that might go unnoticed by any one person — common conditions arising in people from similar backgrounds or areas of the country, or the effectiveness in treatments.
Armed with this information, healthcare providers and consumers will be better able to reduce health disparities, anticipate needs, suggest more precise treatment paths, create a plan tailored to each individual and optimize care for improved health and well-being.
What Does The Digital Healthcare Future Look Like?
With the rise and rapid acceptance of digital healthcare, new opportunities are surfacing. Health tracking devices have been popular on a personal level for years, but now that people are getting more comfortable with sharing and receiving healthcare digitally, we may see more people linking their health devices to their medical profiles, letting doctors and specialists use that data about vital statistics to help provide better and more tailored care.
In a 2020 report, 57% of people said they were definitely or probably interested in remote monitoring of ongoing health concerns through at-home devices, if given the choice — and that was before the growing shift to virtual care during the pandemic. This approach can be a game-changer for those living with chronic conditions and the people who treat them.
In the near term, people can expect digital health technology to continue to become more user-friendly, accessible, and affordable, connecting the dots to make healthcare a seamless part of everyday life, where what a person needs is just a click, call, or virtual visit away.
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