Tablet in doctors hands during a surgery

New Healthcare IT Helps Doctors Achieve Precision, Efficiency

25 Mar 2016 by Teresa Meek

Though house calls have been replaced by tablet screens, and sophisticated imaging equipment has taken the place of the iconic little black bag of doctor’s instruments, today’s physicians are every bit as dedicated to patient welfare as their predecessors. Thanks to meaningful use standards and the resulting healthcare IT solutions that have emerged, clinicians can diagnose problems with amazing precision and deliver faster, more efficient care.

Healthcare IT at the forefront

Health IT infrastructure is very much on doctors’ minds these days. Medical device integration, new payment models and data security are some of the hot topics that were discussed at this year’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, a gathering of more than 40,000 doctors, health IT professionals, healthcare executives and vendors from around the world.

One session demonstrated how physicians can reduce IT costs and increase agility by using cloud computing and unified access management. Other presentations showed how doctors can optimize drug-dose checking to prevent errors and achieve an automated, fully paperless office environment — while avoiding security breaches and staying in compliance.

The rise of telemedicine

Also discussed at the conference: the growing importance of telemedicine and its impact on outcomes, return on investment and the quality of care. IHS Technology predicts 7 million patients worldwide will use telehealth services in 2018, up from 350,000 in 2013.

Telehealth saves patients both time and money. According to HIT Consultant, a Harvard Medical School study found that the average in-person doctor visit took 121 minutes, including transportation, while the average telehealth session took just 15. Additionally, the study said the average opportunity cost (the cost of lost work time) to a patient for an office visit was $43, as opposed to just $5 for a telehealth visit. The cost of the care itself is also lower.

Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found 69% of veterans preferred telehealth visits over in-person visits for post-operative care.

While some doctors resist telemedicine, others think the change can’t happen fast enough.

“I want updates from my patients, but the outdated emphasis on face-to-face visits often makes this impossible. Text, email and videoconferencing should be commonplace for follow-up, even though regulations and reimbursements pose formidable barriers,” Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog.

Ultrasound app: Imaging on devices

Patients who visit a clinic may notice an increased use of ultrasound technology. Doctors can now plug an ultrasound transducer into a tablet. As ultrasound technology gets smaller and more portable, some doctors believe the devices will soon be carried around as standard equipment, like stethoscopes.

Modern ultrasound apps also offer significantly improved color sensitivity and spatial resolution, providing enough detail to help doctors diagnose everything from cancer in the liver or lymph nodes to inflammation in the elbow. And reading the images is becoming part of the curriculum at many medical schools.

3–D brain mapping

Advanced imagery is also helping doctors treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and other brain disorders. Using 3–D brain mapping, doctors attach electrodes to parts of the brain while a patient is conscious, recording where seizures or tremors occur so that surgery can later be performed with precision. While MRI scans can only resolve features down to about a millimeter, a 3–D map provides nanoscale resolution in millionths of a millimeter. The procedure can also be used during surgery to test areas of the brain that cause movement.

Because 3–D mapping allows doctors to see abnormal connections between individual brain cells, it could lead to the visual diagnosis of mental problems such as schizophrenia or depression in the future.

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