As IT makes strides into healthcare, physicians and patients are starting to experience the enormous benefits of having access to medical information where and when it is needed most. Increasingly, enabling the flow of information within a healthcare organization will become a differentiator between providers competing in the GCC region.
Traditionally, healthcare has seen lower levels of investment in IT than other service industries, for example banking. For healthcare providers this has resulted in systems that desperately need modernization to overcome the challenges that have arisen over the years: a disparate mix of software systems that struggle to share information; infrastructure that hinders rather than helps expansion and programs that are not optimally aligned with clinical workflows. As expectations grow of a continuum of care, the systems have increasingly struggled to deliver a truly integrated flow of information. Furthermore, systems have traditionally been designed around provider needs rather than around patient needs. As a consequence of these problems, both patients and medical staff increasingly experience healthcare technology that is below expectations.
However, recent advances in IT are enabling providers to improve the quality of patient care. Healthcare IT now means much more than the traditional isolated computers and unfriendly applications. Increasingly, patient care is exploiting the tools and information that new 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 integration of different systems easier than ever before. Through investment in modern IT systems as well as new facilities, organizations are improving healthcare for citizens to a world-class standard. Essential to the success of investments, however, is ensuring a holistic approach to IT, and that means understanding the strategic goals of the organization and understanding how IT, from technological and organizational perspectives, can help to deliver them.
At the heart of the revolution in healthcare IT is the desire to provide the best possible care to each patient. This has driven the emergence and growing sophistication of the electronic medical record, the EMR. The digital record can hold the full breadth of an individual’s medical history, helping to direct diagnostic and therapeutic decisions when a patient enters the healthcare system. The potential of the EMR is only realized, however, with the ability to distribute the information pervasively within an integrated healthcare network. This highlights the critical relationship that organizations must manage between information and information access — while the EMR on its own is a powerful tool, its combination with networks ensure the tool as available where and when the patient can benefit most.
In this ever-growing technology landscape, IT standards are a key factor in making best use of all the new software and hardware available to healthcare providers. These define the rules of engagement between systems — for example how medical information should be stored and communicated between systems. As standards are gradually being defined, the benefits of their use are increasingly tangible. One impact is of fundamental importance to integrated healthcare networks — the ability to scale the IT organizations. With common standards governing systems design, organizations are more able to grow in IT capacity and functionality as their clinical business strategies demand. Here, the link between IT and business strategies ensures that investment decisions taken at the IT level serve the best interests of the key stakeholders — medical staff and patients.
Together with a growing realization of the importance of IT, the drive towards patient-centric services is a central theme in healthcare organizations across the region. Software that provides simple access to information at the point of care, and hardware that enables communication of date across facilities and mobilizes the access points. 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 growth without the growing pains of old.
As an example of this focus on healthcare IT, a large provider in Abu Dhabi is building a network of integrated healthcare facilities across the emirate. With a major focus on using IT to support the quality of care, the provider and a team of strategy consultants have developed an IT strategy that will support the long-term health and business goals of the organization. This strategy places particular importance on ensuring that technology provides the information and tools needed by physicians, nurses and other staff to provide care that is both high quality for the patient and efficient in its use of the organization’s resources.
While medical staff and patients have always been and will always be the heart of healthcare, the value of IT is starting to reveal itself in the industry and for everyone concerned the improvements are there to see.
Richard Shediac is a VP, Ramez Shehadi is a principal and Jad Bitar a senior associate at BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON